‘Dream big’: The organisation lifting disadvantaged Aussie students onto a new pathway

by Women’s Agenda
Tuesday 11 October 2022

Group from Skyline Education Foundation walking down street together

It’s a sad reality but too often privilege trumps talent in Australia, meaning that our best and brightest aren’t always the ones leading us into the future. 

Thankfully, The Skyline Foundation is helping to shift the status quo by supporting academically talented students to become resilient leaders in the face of social and economic adversity.

A Victorian based NGO, Skyline provides intensive support to gifted and talented students from low socioeconomic backgrounds in the final two years of their secondary education, providing an unparalleled leg up when most needed. 

Founded in 2004 by psychologist John Cheetham, Skyline is an evidence based program using ongoing research to students who may be at risk of leaving the school system early to support themselves and their families, or who are ‘falling through the cracks’ as they deal with financial, emotional or family hardship. 

The current CEO of the Skyline Foundation, Bridget Sutherland, knows just how important schooling is for those coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

“It’s the way out for any kind of disadvantage that is entrenched. Education and employment are the way out of it,” she says.

“I have seen the impacts of different levels of social disadvantage. There is so much optimism around getting students at this stage, and through to university. You really see how anything is possible if you know the opportunity exists.”

The selection process for the program involves Skyline working in partnership with schools to explain the program and garner nominations for students deemed to have high academic capability. Looking for young people with different high abilities, Skyline then applies metric testing over the nominations alongside interviews to select candidates. 

The program is funded entirely through private donors, with Skyline investing in three key areas to support students: providing a support framework, financial reimbursement and a transformative learning experience. 

Sutherland says Skyline goes beyond just providing financial reimbursement of educational expenses since the program offers a ‘wrap around type service’ that gives students regular contact with a program manager and a face-to-face program on leadership and soft skills development.

Networking is also a core focus, with students attending various personal growth and development workshops and vocational seminars during after-school hours to help them explore different career options, connect with like-minded young people and alumni of the program, as well as inspire self-belief in their ability to enter into tertiary institutions. 

The program’s ultimate aim is to see students transition to tertiary education or onto a career path that allows them to reach their full potential and become positive members of the community. 

“Many come from families where nobody has been to higher education,” says Sutherland. “We show a world outside of that– give them the opportunity to dream big and have big university goals.”

MECCA M-POWER has proudly supported the Skyline Education Foundation since 2019, empowering high ability girls across Victoria who face social and economic challenges. 

“The program’s intensive support model aims to break the cycle of persistent inequality and disadvantage, with many of the Skyline students being the first in their family to complete secondary school and transition to tertiary studies,” Lisa Keenan, Executive Director of Mecca M-Power, says.

“We’re excited that Skyline will remain part of the M-POWERed Collective as we enter this new chapter together.”

So far Skyline’s mission is overwhelmingly successful, with 100 percent of their students completing the program and making that next big leap. 

Over 70 percent of Skyline students take on leadership roles in schools that are recognised for academic excellence. And in a potential snowball effect for positive change, schools that partner with Skyline have reported that these students become role models for their siblings and peers. 

Ruth Moore, for example, applied to Skyline after encouragement from a teacher. When selected, she used the Skyline bursary to help her mother pay for textbooks for her and her three sisters. Before this turn of events, Moore was on the verge of dropping out of school because she “couldn’t see the point of it anymore”. She has since graduated university as a teacher with a passion for helping other students prosper in the same way she was afforded. 

“Skyline made me see that there is potential and you can get through having to do the same thing over and over again– it’s not always like this. The people at Skyline gave me the motivation to tell my teachers ‘I’m interested in this’ and ask ‘can we learn more?’” says Moore.