Wiradjuri woman Tarina Perry’s ultimate goal is to teach in schools and guide Koori kids to make their educational experiences positive. She already has a Bachelor of Social Sciences and is midway through her Bachelor of Education, but learning hasn’t always come easily for Tarina.
“Growing up, I was in and out of foster homes and in Year 3 I couldn’t read or write. One of my teachers took us aside and put the effort into us. In high school I met other passionate teachers who mentored and guided me and pushed me to finish my schooling,” Tarina says.
Role models were particularly important in motivating Tarina’s educational journey, and also in setting an example of what could be achieved with belief and commitment.
“I grew up on the Karuah Mission and my auntie was the only one who got up and went to work each day – I looked up to her. I’m one of eight in the family and the only one who went through high school. As a result of finishing my schooling and going on to tertiary study, I’ve been able to travel and put a deposit on a house,” she says.
“My family now looks up to me as a positive role model. To meet the challenges our young people face today, we definitely need more Koori teachers and more role models within schools.”
When Tarina finished Year 12, she enrolled in uni and then moved into a career in Aboriginal health education. While uni was a positive experience overall, she can remember being too scared to talk in class.
“I was the only Aboriginal person in the class and I didn’t like to talk, even though I knew the answers to the questions. It wasn’t until I started going to the university’s Aboriginal centre and mixing with other Koori students that I felt part of uni life.”
Through watching her auntie’s determination, Tarina learned early on to set goals and work towards them. Once she had achieved one goal, she set her sights on another goal and in the process discovered new possibilities had opened to her.
“I always wanted to finish school and get a job. I then decided to go on to uni. I graduated with my Bachelor of Social Sciences in 2005 and worked in health education programs in schools, but teaching has been a calling and I began my Bachelor of Education degree.
“I think there are still challenges for our young people in schools, in that they feel like a minority in class, and finding their voice is harder because of this. Also, the educational experiences of their parents may not have been positive but I think that is slowly breaking down. More Koori teachers will help this.”
Tarina has some simple advice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait young people who are thinking about dropping out of school:
“Stick with it regardless of what your cousins or friends are doing because it will work out in the end,” she says.