CQU Tackles Risk-Taking Behaviour at ‘Schoolies’ through Community Theatre

CQU Tackles Risk-Taking Behaviour at ‘Schoolies’ through Community Theatre

Celebrating Schoolies is a major social phenomenon in Australia, where thousands of young people converge on beachside holiday destinations to celebrate the end of their formal schooling years and the transition to young adulthood. Every year, Schoolies continues to attract significant media attention and public concern over its impact on both the young people involved and the communities near Schoolies venues. Thousands of school leavers from Central and North Queensland attend the Whitsunday Schoolies event, based at Airlie Beach Queensland (close to CQUniversity’s Mackay), while others flock to destinations such as the Gold Coast.

In 1998, it was recognised that the conventional approach to delivering health, safety and legal messages to students via formal presentations from teachers, police officers, health workers, etc was failing to effectively engage students. CQUniversity was subsequently approached by regional agencies to collaborate on an applied theatre project to capture the harm minimisation messages for safe partying in a format that would actively engage young people in Year 12.

Choices is run by CQUniversity Bachelor of Theatre students who write, direct, choreograph and perform the music and drama presentation based on well-known movie and TV themes, weaved around key health, safety and legal messages relevant to Year 12 students. The University and its students work closely with the program’s partners to ensure that the key messages are reviewed/updated each year to reflect the changing environment and associated risks. The students performing are close in age to the audience therefore peer learning becomes an important factor in engaging this target group. Community partners include the Queensland Government and the Whitsunday Regional Council.

The production is ‘on the road’ for two weeks each year just prior to Schoolies and delivered at participating high schools within the Mackay and Townsville Health Service Districts, and for the first time in 2012, in Bundaberg. In 2012 over 4,000 Year 12 students attended Choices across 38 North and Central Queensland secondary schools. Since inception in 1999 Choices has been performed for 14 consecutive years to over 230 secondary schools and 26,000 students.

The Queensland Police Service provides uniformed police officers for the entire length of the tours to all the schools. The officers take part in the actual performances and also join the panel discussion at the end of each show adding vital credibility to the messages being presented and helping to build positive bridges between the school leavers and the police – an important aspect of crime prevention.

In 2011, independent research into the impact of the Choices program in reducing drinking and other risk behaviours during Schoolies celebrations found that the program reduced the incidence of engaging in risky behaviour by 59%.

In 2013 Choices won the Business Higher Education Round Table award (B-HERT) for most outstanding Australian Community Engagement project, recognising the valuable contributions of all the partners to the success of this project.