John* has moved more times than he can remember. The Year 8 student at Mt Maria College Mitchelton says he has finally found a school community where he feels like he belongs.

“My dad is in the Defence Force and we move around a lot,” said John. “Due to his postings around the COVID-19 pandemic, I have hardly seen him this year. It’s hard but it helps to have people who understand, and support from my teachers and my school’s Defence School Mentor.”

John is part of Mt Maria’s Defence School Mentor program put in place for Defence families. Located close to the Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera, Mt Maria College provides Defence students and their families a safe environment to learn and thrive.

Sally Lawler, who has been the college’s Defence School Mentor for seven years, works with more than 70 students from Defence and Veteran families.

She supports students right from the start with enrolment transition from interstate or international schools and continues her care, particularly through times of parental absence.

“We are hands-on, right from the get-go,” says Ms Lawler. “It’s crucial we make our families feel welcome right from the start.

“We partner students up with a ‘buddy’ for orientation to ensure they feel supported and connected. We ‘walk along the path’ with students and families until they feel ready and comfortable,” she added.

Ms Lawler supports students through the challenges they may face, such as friendship, peer groups, social and emotional wellbeing, and disruptions to learning.

“Essentially, I raise awareness of the unique needs of the defence families due to their military lifestyle. My main aim is to provide unity for Defence and Veteran families to feel connected with other families within our school community. ‘Family Spirit’ is one of our school’s charisms and that’s how we want everyone to feel at Mt Maria – part of a family.”
Ms Lawler, who is from a military family herself, says community-building is essential for Defence families, and the whole school community benefits greatly from the program.

“These students have lived in incredible parts of the world and have had experiences other students haven’t. We try to build on these successes and put these students in leadership roles, and the rewards are two-fold.
“Last year I watched a group of senior students who started the program in 2016 grow into incredible young adults and become mentors to their younger peers. It was a really proud moment to see them excel in their leadership capabilities and shine.

“If we can alleviate the challenges that our families have, where the whole family feels connected, our job as a school is done. Having this program in place helps strengthen our small and caring community at Mt Maria.”
Brisbane Catholic Education schools proudly participate in the Defence School Mentor (DSM) Program and are committed to providing a range of services and support assisting children of Australian Defence Force (ADF) families make the smooth transition to a new Catholic school, form friendships and feel connected.

Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE) schools from Ipswich to Mitchelton work closely with both the RAAF Base at Amberley, and the Australian Army Barracks at Enoggera, to provide care for Defence families moving to Queensland. Currently, nine BCE schools have a Defence School Mentor role to support and assist many Defence families successfully transition into their respective school communities.

For more information about enrolling at Brisbane Catholic Education schools, or to find a school near you, visit www.bne.catholic.edu.au.
*name has been changed.