We all have a space we want to go when we want to take time away from the everyday pace. A place we can go to escape, to collect our thoughts and calm our mind. A place to feel at home. Students of Cape York Girl Academy are often hundreds of kilometres from home, hundreds of kilometres from their space, which is often on Country. They have made the empowering decision to orbit from their community to continue their education and every student needs a space where they can feel connected back to their inner self.
This is where their brand-new Sensory Room plays an integral role.
As a campus of Djarragun College, Cape York Girl Academy is a boarding school located north of Cairns on the shores of Wangetti Beach. It’s Australia’s first fully residential secondary boarding school designed for young Indigenous mothers and their babies to live and learn together and for other young Indigenous females who are wanting a smaller and connected school community.
Their new Sensory Room is a place where the students can take the time to centre themselves as well as a confidential space where they can speak with allied health professionals. Dead of Academic Care, Devon Seymour, is already seeing its benefits.
“It’s a nice relaxing place for our young ladies to spend some time in,” says Devon. “It’s something that helps them calm down and come back to a baseline point where they are comfortable enough to continue on with their education.”
With calming features, such as sensory toys, low lighting and music, Principal Mandy Ross says the room is contributing positively to students’ wellbeing.
“The tools chosen are specifically relevant for teenagers, and most importantly of interest to them,” says Mandy.” They empower the students to self-regulate from anger, anxiety or any other overwhelming feeling or state of mind. The tools also help to break down personal and social barriers of shame or judgement.”
Cultural identity plays a vital role in the mental health of the students of Cape York Girl Academy, so, importantly, the space recognises the role culture plays in creating identity. The room looks to transport them back on Country with images, sounds and smells from home, which they associate with being calming, familiar and comforting.
“The colours and print design of the furniture; the original artworks from Indigenous artists; the smells of the native Australian bush; the traditional music – these all provide an intimate and familiar setting, a feeling of comfort and connection for our young people who are often far from home,” says Mandy.
Senior student and mother, Naydia Dooley, sees the Sensory Room as not only a place to re-centre, but one where she feels comfortable expressing herself at any moment in time.
I think it’s very important to have a space like this because kids, especially in boarding schools, are away from home,” says Naydia. “It gives you the place to be yourself and talk about anything.”
Through consistent trauma-informed engagement, Social and Emotional Wellbeing Counsellor, Rebecca Godfrey, is establishing positive long-term relationships with students like Naydia, as part of their on-going wellbeing plans.
Rebecca is employed through Ngak Min Health and runs sessions with students from the Djarragun College campus at Gordonvale and at Cape York Girl Academy.
“The practise that counsellors use as part of our core philosophy is client centred, so everything we do is centred around empowering an individual,” says Rebecca. “It’s about building the resilience, the tools and the self-understanding around how they can manage problems in the future.”
The environment is allowing students to yarn more freely, while the games and activities are making it somewhere the students look forward to going to.
“When it comes to impact, it’s sometimes the small things,” says Rebecca. “You might be working one-on-one with a student, and you can see something switch in their brain around some new information or seeing things from a new perspective. For me that is really the point of impact which I think makes the biggest difference.”
Cape York Girl Academy believes if you educate a girl, she will learn to be the catalyst of change and break the cycle of disadvantage for herself, her family and her community. The new Sensory Room supports the mind, body and spirit, and is a step towards realising this vision. It is giving these young women the much-needed space to breathe.
In 2023 Cape York Girl Academy is led by Head of Campus, Claudine Wiesner. Mandy Ross is now Deputy Head of Campus (Student Services) at Djarragun College Gordonvale Campus