How Stars Foundation is supporting First Nations girls and women in school

by Women’s Agenda
Tuesday 11 October 2022

Andrea Goddard spent several years working for a charity which successfully supported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys and men in completing education, before voicing one significant concern.

Why wasn’t the same support being provided to women and girls?

She saw firsthand how the more support being provided to boys, the bigger the gap became for the education completion rates of girls. 

Goddard sought to personally address this gap, winning a tender in 2015 which enabled her to establish a dedicated program providing full-time mentors in schools to work specifically with Indigenous girls.

She created Stars Foundation, initially working with 280 First Nations girls across seven schools and growing that base to more than 40 schools.

In just seven years, Goddard’s pursuit through Stars Foundation has led to a remarkable increase in high school attendance for girls participating in the program, and a year 12 completion rate that is now at 97 per cent per year, compared with the national indigenous average of 65 per cent.

Further, 93 per cent of participants have successfully transitioned to work or further study. Often, the attendance of those involved in the program as a cohort can be higher than the average for the rest of the school.

The program works by providing full-time mentors, dedicated spaces in schools and a diverse range of activities to engage and support girls in school.

Key to Stars’ success has been acknowledging that what works for engaging boys – which can typically revolve around sport – may not be as successful for engaging girls.

“We hypothesised early on that using sport so significantly in this type of program may not be as effective for young women, as it is for young men,” Goddard says.

“So we focus on building our platform on the hooks of healthy lifestyle, wellbeing, community culture and leadership.

“The key is enabling the girls to feel safe and valued, and ensuring they feel respected and their culture is respected. There are enormous challenges in some of these schools. Some of the girls may have experienced racism and often face systemic structural barriers in being able to succeed at school.”

Stars aims to identify these shared structural barriers and create safe spaces with the “Stars Rooms” where the girls work with mentors, who are typically Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

“We know that if we have the right people who are there to minimise the barriers to education, girls will embrace those connections and step up and be able to flourish in that environment.”

Stars Foundation has been supported by MECCA M-Power since 2019, with MECCA’s Lisa Keenan praising the organisation’s impact and high success rate – even at the height of the pandemic.

“The result is testament to the determination, resilience and capability of these young women, and to the high quality of support provided by the mentors,” says Keenan.

“The work that Andrea and her team of incredible mentors do is changing the narrative for First Nations girls and young women across Australia. We are thrilled to be continuing our support for Stars as we progress our vision of creating a gender equal world.”

Goddard adds that MECCA’S contributions support their mixed funding model, enabling them to continue to reach more schools every year.

The not-for-profit has experienced significant growth since Andrea Goddard received that grant seven years ago, expanding further across the country. Goddard says that the growth continues thanks to the support and dedication of partners, stakeholders, the schools they work with and the team who bring the program to life, including those working as mentors in schools.

From here, Goddard says they will continue to reach more schools, without compromising their mission. “The focus is always on the girls and what’s best for them.”