CQUniversity’s Choices project has reached the finals of the 2017 Australian Financial Review Higher Education Awards.
Now in its 18th year, the annual applied theatre project reaches thousands of Year 12 students from Townsville to Rockhampton with safety messages around alcohol, drugs and sexual activity, before they head to Schoolies Week.
The Choices program has involved close cooperation between CQUniversity and Queensland Police, Queensland Health, the QLD Department of Community Services, 29 high schools and various community groups.
It promotes safe behaviour for Year 12 students heading to Schoolies Week, using a comic theatre format of short skits, songs and dances, performed by CQUniversity Theatre students.
Uniformed police officers also participate in the performances and related panel discussions, adding credibility to the important health, safety and legal messages.
Choices has reached the final three entries to be judged in the ‘Community Engagement’ category of the AFR Higher Education Awards, which are presented by UniSuper.
Now in their third year, the prestigious awards recognise innovation and achievement in Australia’s higher education sector. Winners in each category will be announced at a gala dinner on 29 August 2017, during The Australian Financial Review Higher Education Summit.
Director of the Central Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Professor Judith Brown AM notes that over 100 entries were considered by the judging panel, the most ever entered for the awards.
Professor Brown has been involved throughout the development of Choices and has also taken a key role in researching the effectiveness of the program.
“Before the implementation of Choices in 1999, Year 12 students in North Queensland received the health, safety and legal messages concerned with safe partying during Schoolies in formal presentations from teachers, police officers, health workers and other community leaders,” she says.
“Although this style of delivery presented the facts to the students, it failed to engage them meaningfully, leaving the presenters feeling they had been less than effective in getting these important messages across to the students.
“In contrast, the 50-minute live theatre presentation, Choices, makes use of current teenage pop culture references that incorporate over 30 key safety messages.
“Research conducted by researchers from CQUniversity and the University of Queensland found that using the Choices format of a live theatre performance as a safety response for Schoolies, enabled students to translate knowledge acquired during the presentation into behaviours resulting in safer celebration.”
Professor Brown says the harm minimisation approach of Choices has proven effective in delivering important health, safety and legal messages to students before they arrive at Schoolies.
“The Choices team, made up of CQUniversity students and faculty, and representatives from relevant Queensland Government agencies, meet regularly throughout the year to oversee the writing of the script, as well as to plan and implement the performance tours,” Professor Brown says.
“Choices has been performed for 17 consecutive years with over 230 performances to over 26 000 Year 12 students.
“In that time, over 150 CQUniversity theatre students have been involved as performers, directors, script-writers and choreographers.”
The Choices project began as a partnership between Central Queensland Conservatorium of Music (CQUniversity), Queensland Police Service and the Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Service of Queensland Health.
Since that time, the committee has included representatives from government in the areas of transport, communities, sexual health, Indigenous drug and alcohol programs, liquor licensing, state education, Catholic education, accommodation providers at Schoolies, Red Frogs, mental health agencies, Rotary clubs, private businesses, and the Friends of the Conservatorium, as well as the founding partners.
The Choices program has expanded for delivery across regional Queensland centres including Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Yeppoon, Mackay, Moranbah, Proserpine, Bowen, Ayr, Townsville, Ingham, Tully, Innisfail and the Atherton Tablelands.
CQUniversity’s entry is up against the University of Melbourne’s Teddy Bear Hospital and Macquarie University’s National Indigenous Science Education Program.