A successful, innovative and well-established program at Narrabri High School is helping young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students attend school, finish Year 12 and enter employment.

The Clontarf Foundation uses a unique, innovative and highly successful approach to target one of the most at-risk groups in contemporary Australian society – young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men.

“The program at Narrabri High currently engages 82 boys, ranging in age from Years 7 to 12 or 11 to 18 years of age,” explained Narrabri High operations officer with Clontarf Shaun Donnan.

Shaun came to Narrabri High School to take on the role at the start of the school term this year.

Shaun works with the Clontarf director Chris Binge at Narrabri High School. Chris has been at the school since Clontarf began at Narrabri in 2019.

Originally from Newcastle, Shaun made social work his career, and his role with the Clontarf Foundation is ideal for him, he said.

“I completed an 18-month course in community management at Newcastle TAFE,” Shaun said.

“I can bring my life experience to the position, and this role is my passion.

“I have always been interested in community work, and the way the mind works, how some people have happy lives and others have less happy or even miserable lives and generally what leads people to do the things they do.”

Shaun is drawn to his vocation, but a tragedy was a catalyst to confirm his pathway.

“My friend committed suicide when I was 18, and that definitely pushed me further in this direction,” he said.

“I didn’t know of any trades or occupation that would fulfil what I was aiming for.

“I am a keen rugby league supporter, a dedicated family man and community-minded person.

“I have been fortunate that I have done a lot of solo backpacking so have been exposed to many cultures and lifestyles, including poverty – so I have a pretty good cultural awareness and insight as to how people operate with limited funds, education and employment prospects.

“Clontarf awakens kids and shows them opportunities and aims to strengthen community ties with the family, so they have a shoulder to lean on, to give them confidence to reach out for help,” said Shaun.

“They may have felt isolated.

“My main role is to act as a bridge between school, kids and community and family.

“In the past, there may have been a bridge, but perhaps not a confident one, now we help parents access the school in a friendly way rather than other ways.

“We now act as that communication bridge – they can come to us with their frustrations, and we can deliver assistance and communication back and forth in a friendly, non-judgemental, non-threatening way.”

“We have an alumni program for graduates of the program who have completed the program and gone into the workforce.

“We keep close contact, checking in, seeing if they need assistance, updating in any ways to gain or continue employment and help them navigate that.

“We don’t cut off support when boys leave school.”

The Clontarf program is comprehensive and caring.

“We exist to discipline, provide employment prospects, to educate and build life skills,” explained Shaun.

“On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, we drive around with a mini bus, pick the kids up and have them at the school by 7am. We have a 40-to-50-minute training session, say league, soccer, basketball, ping pong – but give students free rein if they have something they want to do.

“Sport brings everyone together, and our program is very sport-focused – it helps personal issues go out the window when you engage in physical activity, you can divert any negative energy.

“We are taking 12 to the Gold Coast for a rugby competition and an NRL game – all an incentive for good behaviour and school attendance, all funded by the Clontarf Foundation. Then we cook a hot breakfast, a further incentive to get to school, which also underlines how important routine is and starting your day properly. It promotes healthy life habits.

“The Clontarf program is a successful vehicle to get kids to school, start with the physical activity and a warm breakfast and begin the day and have a positive impact – and students are at school, so there is no reason for them not to be in class.”

The program has a proven success record.

“In the limited time so far, for the Year 7 kids especially, you see their personalities developing in a short time.

“There are many examples. For instance, some kids wouldn’t look you in the eye when they started, but now give you a confident and firm handshake,” said Shaun.

He is proud to be part of the Clontarf program in Narrabri.

“It’s such a tidy town, with so many genuinely good people,” he said.

“I love Narrabri and the community and am looking forward to making a real contribution.”

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