UPDATE: Bendigo is lagging behind other regional cities when it comes to supporting the Safe Schools Coalition, an initiative designed to improve LGBTI students’ experience of education.
Four schools in Shepparton have joined in the program – five if you include nearby Mooroopna – as have schools in Ballarat, Geelong and Wodonga.
But the coalition remains without a single educational institution inside the City of Greater Bendigo.
The nearest schools to take up the program are Castlemaine Secondary College, Kyneton Secondary College and Maryborough Educational Centre.
More than 500 schools across Australia have signed on to the Safe Schools Coalition, which attracted attention this week when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered it be reviewed.
Jenny Singe from the Bendigo office of youth mental health service Headspace said same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people in rural and remote locations were particularly likely to experience hardship at school, and she encouraged every educational institution in the region to join the program.
“Everyone has the right to be safe,” Ms Singe said.
She had hoped a camp for LGBTI young people last September would empower students to lobby their schools to join the coalition, but this had not yet occurred.
But Bendigo Senior Secondary College principal Dale Pearce said his school had not considered joining the coalition because there were already a range of activities in place that catered to the needs of LGBTI students, including co-curricular programs teaching harmony and healthy relationships.
“I think every school would have a message of wellbeing in some way shape or form,” Mr Pearce told the Bendigo Advertiser.
I think every school would have a message of wellbeing in some way, shape or form.Dale Pearce, Bendigo Senior Secondary College principal
The senior high school partnered with external organisations like Headspace and Reachout, which Mr Pearce said gave students access to help should they need to reach out.
He said there had not been requests from the school community to join the coalition.
But assistant principal at Castlemaine Secondary College, one of signatories to the coalition, said “anything we can do to make gender diverse young people more comfortable is a good thing”.
His school joined the Safe Schools program about two years ago, using its resources in pastoral care sessions and for staff professional development.
He said while it was difficult to measure the program’s success, he believed it had made a positive impact on his school’s cohort of students.