Palm Island students are growing more confident and showing greater engagement with their schoolwork, as a sea of navy and pink takes over their schools thanks to the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys Try for 5! program.
Supported by Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council and the Queensland Government, students at St Michael’s School Palm Island and Bwgcolman Community School are reaping the benefits of school every day through the Try for 5! program, which incentivises school attendance through special prizes and Cowboys community ambassador visits.
As the drive to come to school continues right up to the end of the year, it’s the buy-in from staff adorned in the striking program shirts on ‘Try for 5! Days’, parents and the wider Palm Island community who are making the program a resounding success.
For St Michael’s School Palm Island teacher Jonathan Marquez, it means kids are spending less time on the streets getting into trouble, and more time in the classroom learning skills for life.
“Taking this program on board this year as a school, we have noticed the excitement in the community and at school, as well as boosting students' attendance,” he said.
“We needed a program that would attract students' attention and encourage them to attend school on a daily basis with the reward of getting a good education, plus the added bonus of winning a weekly or end of term prize.
“Staff alike have really hopped aboard and likewise have enjoyed having this program for our students - it has definitely made a difference this year and has improved behaviour on a whole new level.”
Cowboys NRLW players and community ambassadors Tahlulah Tillett and Krystal Blackwell have made regular visits to both schools each term, using the Cowboys connection to build a genuine rapport with students and staff.
Last week, Tillett travelled over to present prizes to students, staff and parents at St Michael’s School during their assembly while she also took time connecting with students at Bwgcolman Community School, revealing the end of year prize up for grabs for the best performing class.
Sharing with students the importance of a good education and coming to school to learn, making friends and having the chance to play footy is proving a strong connection point to the rugby league-mad community.
Cowboys Community Ambassador Tahlulah Tillet said visiting Palm Island is one of the highlights of every school term.
“It’s important for young kids to ensure they’re getting a good education but also knowing school’s a safe place, they can go there to make friends and have fun is just as important,” she said.
“Through Try for 5!, we have the opportunity to visit the students once every term and also send them prizes. This program is excellent for motivating the children to attend school every day, with the added incentive of receiving rewards.
“The staff have been amazing at both schools; they’ve really driven the program and the community have gotten behind it as well. When you hear people say hello and they know you’re here for Try for 5! I think that’s really special.”
The Try for 5! program has grown to see a whole of community approach to tackling school attendance, with the broader Palm Island community encouraging their young people and supporting them in trying to attend school 5 days per week.
Supporting the program, Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council CEO Michael Bissell said the Try for 5! program has broader benefits than just attendance and learning, helping students understand the positive impacts on their health and longer-term future.
“School attendance is critical in supporting community ambitions towards self-determination and economic independence,” he said.
“Council and the community recognise the kids are our leaders of tomorrow and we want to see them finish school and transition into higher learning and/or good local or regional jobs.
“We hope the kids have broadened their horizons and can capitalise on the opportunities and learnings from the Try for 5! program, especially through improved discipline to attend school, complete their homework and be fully engaged when at school.”
Also supporting the program, Sport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said the program is making a connection through rugby league.
“It’s terrific to see that the Try for 5! program is already kicking goals and having a positive impact on the students involved,” he said.
“The Cowboys and their players are setting a shining example for students, of how they too can realise their full potential by continuing to show up and never give up.
“We know that more participation in sport and other active recreation helps to improve the physical and mental health of all young Queenslanders.”
It’s not uncommon to see students showing off their Try for 5! prizes with their peers wanting to come to school to earn their own.
Bwgcolman Community School Principal Karen Heales said the effects across both the junior school and senior school are becoming more evident as the year rolls on.
“They really love that notion of, I’ve got to try for 5! – one, two, three, four, five – they count it in their heads, we do it on parade, Tilly sends us snippets we can put on Facebook and we’re tracking their attendance so there’s something students can work towards,” she said.
“It’s really important in remote schools that our students get the same as what kids do on the mainland, that means that we need to run these programs to encourage students to come to school so their learning is optimised.
“This is a massive NRL community, so everybody loves the Cowboys, the Cowboys is the team over here that we all follow that we all love so that connection with the Cowboys and community is always very strong, and the Try for 5! shirts that we’re given, the whole program is taken very seriously.”