Four BSSC Alumni are part of an innovative program designed to connect rural, regional and international students. Ashley Eadon (Class of 2016), Ryan Peterson (Class of 2017), Cheyenne Cadence (Class of 2014) and Whitney Eadon (Class of 2018) are part of a group of six young people running the Dear CRIS program.

After a successful pilot in 2018, Dear CRIS (Connecting Rural, Regional and International Students) was adopted by two Bendigo schools, involving more than 100 local students.

Co-founder and La Trobe student, Ashley Eadon, said Dear CRIS connects students nationally and globally with pen pals in order to share personal stories and insights into their lives.

“In the simple act of writing and receiving letters, the students gain awareness of what it is like to live in another country, or to live, for example, as a newly arrived migrant in Australia,” she said.

“At a time when tolerance and understanding seems to be at an all-time low in many parts of the world, fostering connection between people from diverse backgrounds is more important than ever.”

Two hundred and fifty students across four schools are currently involved in the program, with Victory Christian College and Bridgewater-on-Loddon Primary School partnering with schools in Malaysia and Thailand.

Ashley said the pilot program, run at one of the Bendigo schools last year, was a great success.

“As the program progressed, students who would initially write two paragraphs went on to write two pages. The teachers wanted to run the program again, while the students didn’t want it to end,” she said.

“Although we live in a global society, connected by digital technology, some people know very little about the lives of people in other countries – or, indeed, about culturally different people living round the corner.”

“By encouraging students at a young age to not only tolerate difference, but to embrace and enjoy it, we are hoping to put them on a path of greater acceptance and understanding, thereby combatting racism.”

Ashley said the program also helps to improve students’ literacy and communication skills.

Founded in 2017 as part of the ABC’s Heywire program Dear CRIS is supported by YoBendigo, and funded by the FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation Grant.

Ashley was one of three La Trobe University students recently selected to be a part of the ABC Trailblazers Program.

Part of the program included a week-long summit in Canberra, where the students discussed Dear CRIS with government officials, the Minister for Education and the Governor General.

See Ashley on ABC News Breakfast