Rural hostel helps outback kids make it through secondary years — with 13 kids in the house | Ralph-Lauren

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Outback children, many of whom grow up on properties the size of a European country and where their friends are their siblings, usually face a daunting rite of passage when they reach a certain age.

Moving far from home to attend boarding school with thousands of students in the city can often be a big burden on small shoulders.

A rural hostel based in Roma, however, is appealing to outback families to consider it as an alternative to city-based boarding schools.

“We need at least 13 children to break even, which we usually do have, year in, year out, since I’ve been here,” Janice Colley, house parent at the school, said. 

“But to make a profit and allow us to expand and make improvements, we need probably 15 to 16 children every year.” 

‘Grandma’ to a big family

Roma Rural Student Hostel is a secondary boarding school-style environment without the crowd.

A woman stands cooking at a pot in the kitchen of School Term Hostel in Roma.
Janice Colley takes on the role of parent to boarders at Roma’s School Term Hostel.(ABC Southern Qld: Belinda Sanders)

Ms Colley takes on the role of parent to the boarders very seriously, teaching them cooking and cleaning, as well as helping with assignments, homework, and personal development. 

“You’re like a grandmother figure or a mother figure to the whole 13 children.

“So, it is just lucky I came from a big family.”

Part of the education framework

There are six school-term hostels throughout Queensland providing residential accommodation for geographically isolated children. 

They are in Bollon, Clermont, Georgetown, Chinchilla, Thursday Island and Roma.

Roma’s hostel, in the centre of the Maranoa, has been a part of the Roma education framework for 25 years and is owned by the Maranoa Regional Council, administered by a voluntary committee. 

It caters to students attending Roma State College, TAFE and St John’s College. 

“We hope our motto really is to empower students to achieve success,” Ms Colley said. 

‘Bigger opportunities’ for kids

Students’ families pay boarding fees, but the cost is kept down by government subsidies and the hostel’s not-for-profit model.

Kids hang on and around the sign for the School Term Hostel in Roma.
School Term Hostels offer an alternative to boarding schools for outback families.(Supplied: School Term Hostel Roma)

“If we were not here, the consequence would be that they don’t keep going with their education, or they have to go to schools that don’t offer the subjects they need,” Ms Colley said. 

“So Injune, for example, [in outback Queensland] we have a lot of students from there — they are a bypass school, and there is only three or four in the class. 

“The parents see this facility as giving them an opportunity — bigger opportunities to explore different subjects.” 

This year, four new students have moved into the hostel family house to start studying in Roma, taking the total number to 13.



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