White Ribbon Night - New Town High School

Jason Szczerbanik, Principal New Town High School
Jason Szczerbanik the Principal of New Town High School spoke at Tasmania's White Ribbon Night which was organised by the Department of Premier and Cabinet in collaboration with the Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Management.

Jason's Address

As Principal of the only government boys school in Tasmania, as a husband and as a father of 2 children, including a 7 year old son and a 4 year old daughter I take very seriously the responsibility bestowed on us to stand up, speak out and to act to prevent the increasing number of incidents of family violence in Tasmania.

New Town High School and more broadly the Department of Education has a very strong emphasis on building and sustaining positive relationships through the implementation of the Respectful Schools, Respectful Behaviour framework as part of the Learners First Strategic Plan. In addition, the Department has recently decided to become a White Ribbon Accredited Workplace which I will reflect on shortly.

It is sobering to note that Research conducted by Our Watch in 2015 has determined that young Australians are exposed to, and, influenced by gender based violence and gender inequality, and have more violence –supportive attitudes than the general population.

Schools are places where our young people learn how to interact with others and to work in a respectful way. Sadly, for some students, schools may be the only safe haven they have for coping with family violence and abuse. Going to school for these students provides the stability and support they require.

On two occasions this year as Principal of the school I have sat across a table of a mother or carer of one of our students that had been the victim of recent family violence. These experiences had a significant impact on me and has strengthen my resolve in my capacity as principal to do more than react to instances of family violence.

It would be no surprise to you that if we are to break the cycle of family violence schools must play a larger role than providing a safe space for our students as important as this role is.

Our schools play a key role in ensuring that our young Tasmanians understand that all relationships must be respectful, equal and free of negative behaviours, attitudes and violence, particularly against women and children.

The findings from a study evaluating the success of Respectful Relationships Education strategies in Victoria suggests that programs that focus on children and young people  are important because:

  • Many children and young people experience violence in their homes
  • Young people are already being subjected to, and perpetrating violence themselves
  • There is already a degree of tolerance for violence against girls and women
While this sounds very depressing, the good news is that the study also revealed that:
  • Violence prevention amongst children and young people works
  • Experiences during childhood and adolescences are crucial in the formation of respectful, non-violent relationships.

NTHS Prefect Josh Blum, Principal Jason Szczerbanik, Premier Will Hodgman, Police Commissioner Darren Hine and NTHS Prefect Brandon Fraser

New Town High School and other educational institutions play a key role in facilitating change in attitudes and behaviour through comprehensive, targeted, structured and safe learning environments.

Through our teaching and learning programs and extensive support structures the focus at New Town High school this year has been to:
  • Challenge the myths that perpetuates family violence with our boys
  • Support students, and in some cases mothers and carers to seek help and safety
  • And as a staff, modelled and promoted healthy, non-violent and respectful relationship’s

The commitment of New Town High and its staff to facilitate this change is evident by 3 of our staff working as part of a larger team within the Department of Education to develop and trial a Respectful Schools Curriculum and resource package to support the curriculum’s implementation.

The new curriculum is an excellent resource that will support schools in delivering proactive, early intervention and targeted respectful relationships education to create long term change. School Leaders and educators from the early years through to year 12 will facilitate and embed a culture of respectful relationships within each of its school communities.

As mentioned earlier the Department of Education has recently made the important commitment to becoming a White Ribbon Accredited Workplace as part of the Tasmanian Government pledge through the Safe Homes, Safe Families: Tasmania’s Family Violence Action Plan.

In September 2016 the department will begin the journey towards accreditation; raising awareness and changing attitudes and behaviours to realise the vision of White Ribbon for all women to live in safety, free from all forms of men’s violence.

We do not underestimate the extent of the work and commitment that will be required to achieve accreditation, but we believe the department will begin this from a solid position because of the foundations we have built through the Respectful Schools Respectful Behaviours initiative.

In closing, schools are an important setting for challenging stereotypes and addressing attitude and beliefs about gender and power that perpetrate family violence and abuse. Our schools are in the process of creating environments that promote and embed beliefs in your young people that family violence is not acceptable and that it can be challenged and overcome.

I am confident that through the implementation of the Respectful Relationships curriculum and by partnering with White Ribbon schools are well placed to build cultures where stereotypes are challenged, gender based discrimination is not tolerated and gender equality is promoted and modelled.

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