Raise the Bar Academy is a joint initiative between Athletics Australia and Melbourne University Sport to provide Indigenous school students from around Australia a chance to discover the pathways to studying and participation through high performance sport.
When Carl Junot was asked by the University of Melbourne to design an athletics program that aligned with the institution’s strategic objectives, he wasted no time in coming up with a solution.
In collaboration with his spouse Bridgid Junot, who was the Indigenous Participation Coordinator at Athletics Australia at the time, he proposed a joint initiative that would encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to study at university through their participation in track and field events.
Raise the Bar Academy was launched in 2015 and in its first year received close to 150 applications from rural and regional Indigenous teenagers, often from deprived communities. 35 students are selected to spend a week in January on campus, where they receive professional coaching, academic mentoring and positive psychology training from a number of professionals that includes elite athletes and staff members.
At the end of the week a celebratory dinner is held to honour their achievements. Guests in previous years have included Olympians Nova Peris, Kitty Chiller and Steve Hooker.
Currently its program manager, Carl Junot says that most students feel inspired to pursue athletics and higher education after leaving the program. Three of their alumni have already enrolled in undergraduate courses at the University of Melbourne since the program’s inception.
We are using athletics as the engagement tool to raise aspiration around higher education, particularly here in the University of Melbourne. Carl Junot
“The program is not just focused on the very best track and field athletes because the communities we are trying to get our student participants from don’t necessarily have access to organised sport in track and field,” Junot says.
“If a student can describe to us in their application that they really enjoyed their school carnival, which involved athletics, then that is good enough for us. It is not just for someone who has 5 – 10 years’ experience as a high performance track and field athlete. It is for anybody who is interested in the sport and can articulate their desire to further their education as well.”
The program hopes to increase its intake of students to 60 participants in the coming years. Junot is also looking to expand the range of sports that students can engage with, such as soccer and AFL.
Recognition of the program’s value includes a philanthropic contribution of $10,000 from the Edwin Flack Foundation and winning the 2015 Community Leadership and the 2016 National Community Service awards from Australian University Sport.