For Aliyah Donald-Hardes, weekly meetings with tutor Emma Arnold are proving to boost more than her academic performance.
Aliyah and Emma are involved in a program that started earlier this year through the University of Wollongong's Woolyungah Indigenous Centre in partnership with the Aurora Education Foundation's Redefine Indigenous Success in Education (RISE) initiative.
It pairs Aboriginal students from the university with local high school students.
Emma, a proud Yuin woman in her final year studying a Bachelor of Social Work, and Aliyah - who is in year 8 at Dapto High School - meet each Monday.
They go through Aliyah's school work, but the pair have developed a friendship that means they can simply yarn about how school and life are going for Aliyah, discuss any issues she might be having, and even play a game of pool.
"I enjoyed school, but I know school can be a really tough environment, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids," Emma said.
Aliyah's mother Selina Donald said she had seen a change in her daughter since the program began, with improving marks at school just the beginning.
"She is a lot more confident in herself," Selina said.
Aliyah, who was born and raised on Dharawal country but has strong links to Wiradjuri country, chose to meet Emma each week on the UOW campus at Woolyungah.
It was good for Aliyah to be surrounded by culture, Selina said, and exposed her to other Indigenous university students who showed she too could pursue this path in future if she wanted.
Aliyah said she understood her school work more as a result of Emma's tutoring, and felt her social skills had improved too.
"It's just nice to have a space where you can come and do your work, and hang out with your tutor," she said.
Woolyungah director Jaymee Beveridge said RISE complemented the centre's existing My Future Matters program, which worked with Indigenous students to explore their futures.
"Moving beyond building the aspirations of Indigenous students to being a part of their academic everyday success is what really matters," Ms Beveridge said.
RISE was launched last year to encourage Indigenous students to define what success meant to them, and support them in pursuing those goals.
"We know that if Indigenous students see themselves in the design of the education system, they will be more likely to resonate with it, engage with it, take ownership of it and succeed within it," Aurora chief executive officer Leila Smith said.
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