Josh brings Indigenous programs to YMCA Vocational Schools
Josh Fearn with a student from the Y Vocational School.
“It's all about identity”
Vocational schools are often a safer space for young people who do not thrive in mainstream schooling and Senior Lead Youth Worker Josh Fearn’s passion is to ensure they are also safe spaces for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Working at the Y Vocational School North Lakes for several years, Josh has been the key person responsible for integrating Indigenous programs into vocational schooling and helping teenagers connect with their culture.
Josh Fearn with students at the Y Vocational School.
Being an Awabakal man from Newcastle, Josh has a passion for bringing cultural awareness to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and students.
Josh said he is able to draw upon his own experiences and story to motivate and change the lives of students at the vocational school.
“I grew up as a young Aboriginal boy in community so it was quite challenging and quite tough,” Josh said.
“Growing up we didn’t have much so I made a lot of poor decisions. I was consistently finding myself in trouble, breaking the law, I knew this was not me so I was focused to make better decisions.”
“Then one day in custody I realised this isn’t me, this is not who I am, I need to make better decisions. I want to be better, I want to provide, I want a future.”
A career supporting young people
After studying to become a support worker, Josh has helped hundreds of young people through his work in detention centres and Youth Off the Streets, before moving into education.
Now a Senior Youth Worker Lead at the Y, Josh identified a need to introduce programs that brought awareness of Indigenous culture to staff and students.
Josh Fearn (centre) with Moreton Bay Senior Campus Youth Workers Morris Hodges (left) and Krystal Wighton (right).
His first initiative at the Y Vocational School Moreton Bay was connecting with local traditional owners and establishing a didgeridoo program aimed at helping students connect with their culture and feel confident to identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander within the school community.
“All of a sudden we've gone from three or four kids saying that they identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander to having 15 kids in that one term,” Josh said.
“We had so much interest we opened it up to non-Indigenous kids as well so we can support that reconciliation – making sure our Indigenous kids and non-Indigenous kids are working together, having a good understanding of different cultures.”
Another popular program Josh has co-created is the school’s Aboriginal Art Program. Facilitated by Uncle Goma Conlon, the program teaches young people about the meaning of Indigenous symbols in artwork and provides an opportunity for Indigenous students to create their own story using Aboriginal symbols.
“Once they understand and start creating their own story and start painting, they don't want to go back to class because they're enjoying it so much,” Josh said.
Another highlight for Josh and the students was creating a cultural dance program, where Indigenous students learn a traditional dance over several weeks that they perform at the Year 12 Graduation Ceremony in front of a crowd of over 500 people.
“I thought to myself what's the best way I can really support these young Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids and break that cycle of not being shamed and getting up there being proud of their culture,” Josh said.
“We got them all sized up with all their outfits they have to wear. We've got them painted up then we went into town and we all got up there and danced and it was probably one of the highlights the organisations has ever seen.”
Josh Fearn (left) with Moreton Bay Senior Campus Youth Worker Mathew Galo (right).
Making all Y Vocational Schools a culturally safe space
Josh’s passion for integrating Indigenous culture into the Y Moreton Bay has seen every YMCA Vocational School site now adopt cultural programs, giving students more opportunities to thrive and find their identity though vocational schooling.
“I say this to the kids all the time I wish I had one of these vocational schools growing up because it would have been right up my alley, I wasn't fit for mainstream.”
“It's so important because it gives them opportunities like smaller classrooms, they get more support from the teachers, youth workers, counsellors, vet youth workers, so they're getting support so much more than what they'll get in a mainstream school.”
“My next goal and focus is now is trying to implement having an Indigenous staff member at each site to support their Indigenous kids because I think it's so important.”
“I've overcome so many barriers and that's what I want to encourage with these young people to do the same. Some of them are probably going through the same thing I went through and I said to them, you can overcome these stigmas, it’s about what you want to put into it.”
Josh Fearn (left) with Moreton Bay Senior Campus Head of School Domenic Heidke (right).