For young people, there’s no limit to ambition

Hannah Morris (Cohort 2016) moved from Sydney to Darwin when she became an Associate at Nightcliff Middle School in the Northern Territory. She is currently in her third year teaching and founded a not-for-profit organisation, Blue Sky Connect, with fellow Teach For Australia Alumnus Jonathan Chow (Cohort 2015). Blue Sky Connect links aspirational high school students in the Northern Territory with meaningful, challenging work experience placements in leading organisations.

Hannah was recently nominated as a Finalist in the Northern Territory Young Achiever Awards for Excellence in Youth Leadership. Winners will be announced in April 2019.

How did you get the idea for Blue Sky Connect?

Blue Sky Connect was formed from my experiences living and teaching in the Northern Territory over the past couple of years. I had a lot of conversations with teachers not just in Darwin but in the Tennant Creek, Katherine and Alice Springs areas about the concept of ambition in our students. Comparing my own childhood growing up in metropolitan Sydney and going to a selective academic high school with a strong support network, I found there was a huge disparity between my personal experience and that of my students when it came to their ambitions for their future after high school.

My colleagues and I found that many of our students didn’t have much drive or passion to pursue a career after graduating from school. There are multiple factors that influence this but when I spoke to my students about pursuing professional careers after school, many of them would respond with “other kids can do that” or “I’m not the type of kid that can get into a job like that.” I noticed that there was a collective low self-esteem amongst my students when it came to their potential (which they had a lot of).

Why do you think work experience is the right solution?

When I was in tenth grade, work experience was a great opportunity for me to determine if I wanted to pursue a career in that industry. I was lucky in the sense that I had numerous options to choose from. However, many students in my region and those of my colleagues were not offered the same opportunities. In the Northern Territory there is a really strong network of young professionals working in all different professional fields and I thought that it would be great to facilitate a connection between these two groups – like a Tinder for work experience, I suppose. [laughs]

How did this move from an idea into a tangible project?

The catalyst happened when I was selected to attend the Northern Territory Social Change Summit for young entrepreneurs. We were given the opportunity to refine our ideas through incubator-type workshops over a weekend. At the end of the weekend, I pitched my idea to a group of investors and I was fortunate enough to win a grant to start a not-for-profit organisation.

I’ve never done anything like this before so it was both amazing and a little overwhelming. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was also a Teach For Australia Alumnus, Jonathon Chow, and he expressed a strong interest in being involved as a cofounder of Blue Sky Connect. Jonathon and I designed the project and ran a pilot program at the end of last year.

How did the pilot program go?

It went really well!

We had six students from three different schools – Nightcliff Middle School, Taminmin College and Katherine High School – participate in the pilot. We brokered relationships with four organisations in different industries: the Katherine Times (journalism), William Foster Chambers (law), Jacobs Engineering (engineering) and the office of Natasha Fyles who is the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice in the Northern Territory (politics).

Our goal was to find reputable work places who were interested in taking on students from low SES communities. We received really positive feedback from the students, and the partner organisations all have agreed to participate in the program again this year. I feel lucky to be part of a community that is so supportive.

How difficult was it to build the relationships with the organisations?

I was pleasantly surprised because the organisations we approached were so eager to offer their assistance and I feel lucky to be part of a community that is so supportive.

The Teach For Australia network was also an important source of support as I was able to reach out to my colleagues and ask them to recommend students that would really benefit from the program. I also reached out to Sonia Loudon, a fellow Alumna of Teach For Australia, who founded Boundless (a Victorian based not-for-profit organisation with similar goals) who gave me some great advice and was incredibly supportive of the initiative.

How did the students respond to the program?

One student who was placed in William Foster Chambers told me that the experience really confirmed her passion to enter the legal profession. Another student placed at the Katherine Times had her article on PFAS contamination* published in the newspaper which made her feel really empowered. The students who worked at Natasha Fyles’ office happened to be Student Representative Council (SRC) leaders in their school, and they were able to see what it was like to be a representative of the people at a larger scale.

What do you want to say to other Alumni and Associates who see a problem within their communities but aren’t quite sure how to take the first step?

I think it is important to keep in mind that if you see a problem that needs to be addressed, there will definitely be other people who have the same perspective as you. I honestly think the best thing to do is to discuss the problem with your peers and colleagues. I’ve found that there are no limits when it comes to the change that a group of motivated people can make. So make sure you continue to have conversations with your friends and colleagues and there’s no telling what you might be able to achieve together.

*PFAS is the name given to a group of chemicals used at the Tindal RAAF Base in firefighting foams used in training between 1988 and 2004. Hannah was recently nominated as a Finalist in the Northern Territory Young Achiever Awards for Excellence in Youth Leadership. Winners will be announced in April 2019.

Your Time Starts Now: Australia has one of the most unequal and inequitable education systems in the developed world – but you can help make a difference. We’re looking for smart and passionate people like you to commit to teaching for at least two years at a school that needs you. You’ll teach what you know, and be a role model for young people. It’ll be tough, but one of the most fulfilling times of your life. Start your application today.

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