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Johnathan Thurston’s Academy, NBN Co and Skytrans have pulled off the impossible to ensure Indigenous children in remote communities are not left socially isolated during school closures due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
With the Coronavirus continuing to spread, Thurston feared that the remote communities who take part in the academy’s JTBelieve programs, funded by the Australian Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy, would become more isolated and it would have long term impact on the mental well-being of the wider communities.
Last week, Thurston 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 Kowanyama and Yarrabah, with Thursday Island not far behind, so Thurston and the academy could beam personal daily messages, school lessons and other information directly into the communities.
Thurston will be chatting with the kids over his own NBN connection from his Townsville home. Skytrans has generously transported the necessary equipment into the communities to establish the vital link.
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,” Thurston said. “Without them this would have not 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, taking part in more extra-curricular activities, but I am worried that this will suffer during any school closures.
“The impact of that 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.
“I fear for our kids if they become cut off from society and I want to ensure they don’t feel abandoned. 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 can stay connected during this period.
“We are proud to have been able to facilitate this,” Mr Williams said.
“Ensuring the kids can stay connected and that their engagement with the academy remains is incredibly important. The work the academy is doing in these remote locations is incredible and it was important to us that we could play a small part in supporting them and ensuring it’s not interrupted during this time.”
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.
“It was touch and go there for a while if we could get into the communities before the lockdown but the work the Academy did in facilitating all key players on short notice was amazing,” Mr Collins said.
“We are very proud to have played a part in this project and give back to our regional communities.”
Since 2018, 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.
For more information please call Sarah Morgan on 0421 664 969.