The resilience research project is focused on supporting the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

The National Health and Medical Research Council funded a 5-year research partnership between Central Queensland University (CQU), Queensland Department of Education’s Transition Support Services (TSS) and 17 boarding schools across Queensland.

The project aims to connect boarding school students from Cape York and Palm Island, their families, communities and schools to enhance student resilience and provide strong resilient environments in which students can flourish and learn.


Guest Panel discussing how services can support student resilience and wellbeing. From left: Tessa Benveniste (CQUni), Cathy Adams (TSS), Peter Linnehan (EQ), Antoinette Cole (Catholic Education Services – Diocese of Cairns), Greg Franks (Boarding Australia), Janelle Knack (Catholic Education – Diocese of Townsville)


The Resilience Study Team is led by Gungarri researcher, Associate Professor Roxanne Bainbridge and Associate Professor Janya McCalman from the Centre for Indigenous Health Equity Research at CQU in Cairns, alongside the TSS led by State Program Manager, Mr Richard Stewart.

The Partnership held its third annual Resilience Study Schools and Communities meeting in August with 90 students, families, community council representatives, educators, boarding school providers, support services and researchers attending.

For Team Project Manager, Dr Tessa Benveniste, who has been researching the experiences of remote Aboriginal students in boarding for the past five years, these meetings are quite special.

‘It’s rare to all be able to meet in the same room for two days, to focus on improving and sustaining the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth,’ says Benveniste.

‘It’s important that these discussions are had with students and their families present, and to value their voices and experiences, which are vital components of our research approach.’


Day 1 Artwork: Summary of key discussions by artist, Margie Woodfield with the help of students


Boarding Australia, Chief Executive Officer, Greg Franks, contributed to the panel discussion alongside TSS, Catholic Education and Queensland Education representatives

‘Student wellbeing was flagged as a big issue by delegates at our 2018 National Indigenous Education and Boarding Symposiumin Canberra,’ says Franks.

‘If a student starts school carrying unaddressed trauma and is not feeling safe, this has a negative impact on their ability to learn.’

‘Boarding staff aren’t psychologists, but they are still required to address student wellbeing.’

‘It’s important that there is research like this to help boarding providers and educators of Indigenous students,’ Franks says.

The primary study intervention focuses on working with schools and TSS by supporting the implementation of STEP UP (Strengths-based, Tuned-in, Evidence-based, Plan is measurable, Understanding, Partnerships) plans.

Concurrently, a community of practice learning platforms was established to strengthen the professional capacity of school staff and services to better respond to the needs and aspirations of remote-dwelling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students attending boarding school.

Over the last 2 years, TSS supported students from Cape York and Palm Island who are enrolled in 17 boarding schools across Queensland, and Year 6 students from 2 remote Cape York communities yet to transition to boarding have participated in a survey developed to measure their resilience and risk.


Breakout Group on managing stress at boarding school. Staff from TSS and Boarding schools (faces visible from left) Mareta Alexander, Michelle Reid, Charada Grimes, Renee Hunter, Alice Ganfield, and Jim Tarnvakis

Written by Rachael Hakim