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Keeping Indigenous kids connected during Coronavirus shutdown


Close up photo of a group of three adults and three youth. In the background is a see through door.
JTBelieve Officer – Noradelle David, JTBelieve Kowanyama participants – Malcolm, Hamish and Markeil with NBN Technicians – Chris and Thomas (Photo courtesy of Johnathan Thurston Academy)
11 May 2020

Johnathan Thurston’s Academy, NBN Co and Skytrans pulled off the impossible to ensure children in three remote communities were not left socially isolated when their schools closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

With the Coronavirus continual spread, Thurston feared that the remote communities who take part in the academy’s JTBelieve programs would become more isolated leading to long term impact on the mental well-being of the wider communities.

He called NBN Co to ask for their help and they jumped at the chance to assist. In under 48 hours, all parties had coordinated the installation of systems into Thursday Island, Kowanyama and Yarrabah so Thurston and the Academy could beam personal daily messages, school lessons and other information directly into the communities.

JTAcademy has been running these programs, in conjunction with the local communities, for more than two years, with outstanding results including 91% school attendance in some cases.

But Thurston said he was very worried a lot of that good work would quickly come undone if local schools were closed due to the Coronavirus.

“I am so grateful to NBN Co and SkyTrans for moving heaven and earth to help us make this happen,” Johnathan said.

‘Without them this would have happened and the fact they both jumped at the chance to ensure these kids were looked after says so much about their focus and commitment to the regional communities of Australia.’

‘As a result of our programs, which work hand-in-hand with the local elders and Council bodies, the kids in these communities are fully engaged, more confident, and taking part in more extra-curricular activities.’

‘The impact of that [closure] on the kids could be quite devastating. These communities already feel a sense of isolation and I am concerned how quickly this could escalate to wider community health and well-being concerns.’

‘We have JTAcademy team members on the ground in each community, working hard to keep our participants calm and positively engaged and I have instructed my academy team to do whatever it takes to ensure we have a good connection with each community,” he said.

NBN Co’s Head of Regional and Remote Gavin Williams said they were very happy they could assist and work with the academy to facilitate the installation of the satellites to ensure the kids stay connected during this period.

The Academy has also worked with each community to set up temporary locations, such as the Council Chambers and library so the kids can meet (on a roster) in small groups to view and partake in the material transmitted by the academy through the newly installed satellites.

SkyTrans Chairman Peter Collings said the company jumped at the chance to provide support in transporting the supplies and the team who provided the installation.

“We are very proud to have played a part in this project and give back to our regional communities.” Mr Collings said.

Find out more

Since 2018, Johnathan Thurston has focused on making a difference in the lives of young Indigenous people by improving their access to employment and educational opportunities through the JTAcademy.

Learn more about this initiative from the Johnathan Thurston Academy.

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