Hundreds of students across Victoria struggle to even get to school due to public transport costs, so in February 2020 State Schools Relief launched a program that made available 1,000 myki cards to students who needed them to get to school.
Through The Arthur Gordon Oldham Charitable Trust, Equity Trustees directed $100,000 towards this State School Relief program last year.
The response was so great that after just one month, State Schools Relief have already distributed some 800 Mykis and, with hundreds more applications in the pipeline, made a further 200 available.
Sue Karzis, CEO of State Schools Relief, says “A lot of charitable initiatives for young people focus on school itself, such as lunches and scholarships and these are necessary. However, students need to be able to get to school in the first place, and not all of them can. We have become increasingly aware of the widespread issues around transport disadvantage, so we decided to do something about it.”
The Mykis distributed by State Schools Relief allow for approximately two months of travel, with holders able to ‘top up’ to a value of $100 a further two times on request.
In processing the hundreds of applications, Sue and her team have come across many stories of the very real and significant challenges some young people face in getting to school. Parents may not be able to support their children because they themselves are facing financial hardship because of unstable or non-existent employment or struggling with mental health – or other health - challenges. They may not have reliable cars, money for petrol (more affordable housing can often be located a long way from amenities) or be living in places where they are at risk of exposure to violence, including in the home.
“We had one applicant who travelled from Melton to Ballarat High School and back every day, a 140km round trip,” says Sue. “Another student – in year 12 and studying for VCE – took four hours to get to school every day as her single mother moved far away from her school.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped: “Recently we had one case of a student who was living independently and had all of her casual shifts cancelled due to coronavirus. Pretty much overnight she’s lost her income and, with it, her ability to pay for public transport.”
The good news is that the State School’ Relief pilot program is already making a difference to hundreds of students – and because of its resounding success, will hopefully continue as one of the organisation’s ongoing offerings alongside uniforms, stationery and other school essentials.
“Getting to school really is step one, so it’s critical there’s something in place for those where even that’s a challenge,” says Sue. “It’s been a lot of work – months of pitching to grant-makers like Equity Trustees, coordination with PTV and so on, but when you hear the stories and realise what all this work is enabling, it’s 100% worth it and we’re so happy to be able to make a difference.”