Building Sustainable Rural Engagement in Literature

Who is involved?

  • Huw Griffiths
  • Will Christie
  • Nicola Parsons
  • Kieryn McKay
  • Melissa Hardie
  • Kate Lilley
  • Brigid Rooney
  • Annamarie Jagose

What have we done?

A group of students working together

Throughout 2012 and 2013 the English Department built partnerships with targeted low-SES schools in greater Sydney and rural NSW to encourage their students to aspire to university and to support the development of their critical and creative capacities. This activity has included most of the department's academic staff and a sizeable proportion of its various cohorts of students who, in one capacity or another, met with students and teachers from these schools to engage in a number of different activities:

  • in-school classroom workshops on Mad Men, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, postcolonial Australian literature, video games, and graphic novels;
  • one-on-one sessions with students to develop their "critical friends" creative writing projects;
  • large-scale campus visits to bring the various schools and teachers together with members of the department for day-long activities.

What are we planning?

This new project, "Building Sustainable Rural Engagement in Literature", extends our established program to three schools in rural NSW. Responding to research which demonstrates a critical need to engage with young people in rural areas and a strong indication that rural students often feel academically disadvantaged by their isolation, the project aims to provide platforms where staff and rural students can meet and discuss both their work in English and their feelings and aspirations about attending Uni. With this in mind, developing sustainable relationships with these outer regional schools will include the production and ongoing use of interactive online resources, which will supplement the delivery of specifically designed face-to-face learning modules. By building sustainable relationships with these schools the project also expands to include further aspects of the University's strategic plan - to diversify the University's constituency through engagement with students from rural and remote backgrounds.

Students sitting on campus

What have we learned?

  • The potential for sustainability is key. Crucial for breaking down any barriers (real or perceived) between the University and the wider community is a sense that we are in it for the long haul.
  • Do small things well. Rather than overstretch our resources, we feel that we have learned more from concentrating our efforts, doing one thing at a time and making sure that it worked.
  • High school students really know their stuff. Some of the students we have met have bowled us over with their enthusiasm for, and their knowledge of, the various books, films, and other texts they have been studying. It has been very exciting.

Partner Schools

Students studying drama
  • Bankstown Girls' High School
  • Blacktown Boys' High School
  • Holroyd High School
  • Coonabarabran High School
  • Dubbo High School
  • Menindee High School, Broken Hill
  • Willyama High School, Broken Hill

Where has our funding come from?

  • 2012: Widening Participation Grant, SIU, SLAM and FASS
  • 2013: Widening Participation Grants, SIU, SLAM and FASS