IT has been 15 years since Erin Phillips graced the cover of the education booklet for Port Adelaide’s longest running school-based program, the Community Youth Program.

In 2022, the club’s marquee AFLW recruit is again appearing on the front of the document – alongside two of her new teammates, representing the first time female Australian Rules players have done so.

It is a small but symbolic gesture of the changing nature of the program, which on Wednesday for the first time in its 23-year history saw athletes from both the men’s and women’s football programs sharing important messages in the same school.

Sharing lessons that encourage primary school-aged children to live healthy and respectful lifestyles, Community Youth Program (CYP) is the brainchild of the late Russell Ebert and covers topics including the five food groups, exercise, hydration and sleep along with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Where previously male AFL players would conduct school visits to lead the sessions and the club had female athletes from other sports take part as female role models, with its AFLW program now in full swing ahead of its inaugural season starting in August, there are a new bunch of Port Adelaide players involved.

This year alone, CYP will engage with as many as 20,000 students in across 46 South Australian schools. Image: Jess Green.

The first session with male/female player crossover happened on Wednesday at Tea Tree Gully Primary School, and Youth Programs Coordinator Will Northeast says it has created an exciting new dynamic in the classroom.

“It’s amazing for our club to have an AFLW team but to then have these incredible female athletes out in our community program is even more exciting,” he said.

“Sport has the power to help deliver some positive messages to young people and traditionally, since the program started in 1999, we’ve only had our male players involved so having the AFLW players there as well has created a new energy.

“We’re seeing the female students in our program more engaged than ever, and it’s truly powerful. Having female voices in what has traditionally been a male-dominated area is really important in engaging with the entire cohort.”

In recent years, Port Adelaide’s not-for-profit community arm, Power Community Limited, developed an online eBook and virtual classroom to help CYP navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

In that time players were unable to conduct school visits and had to do them virtually, but as of this month, in-person visits featuring both male and female players will slowly be reintegrated.

“During the pandemic we haven’t been able to have players in the classroom,” Mr Northeast explained. “We’ve had players record messages and link up by video to the classroom but the energy is completely different from the students when the players are there in front of them.

“We’ve continually found ways to adapt and keep the program going and growing and having female and male footballers in the classroom together is another step in its growth.”

Liz McGrath, Gemma Houghton, Julia Teakle, and Indy Tahau join the club's longest-running school-based program, kicking off at Tea Tree Gully Primary School. Image: Jess Green.

CYP will engage with as many as 20,000 students in 2022 across 46 South Australian schools – both metropolitan and regional.

Last time Phillips was on the cover of the CYP booklet in 2007, she was a rising star of the WNBL and would take part in school visits to be a female role model.

This time out, alongside new teammates Gemma Houghton and Indy Tahau she is in the Port Adelaide guernsey and gets equal billing with Ollie Wines, Karl Amon and Aliir Aliir.

And now that the physical work booklet has been updated to include AFLW athletes, the online learning tools will progressively undergo a similar change in time for the 2023 school year.

The Community Youth Program has lessons designed to be fun and interactive which include healthy eating; physical activity; STEM; respect; smarter than smoking; identifying character strengths; goal setting and gratitude.

CYP is a partnership between the Port Adelaide Football Club, the Government of South Australia, SAAB Technologies, Variety SA, Seeley International and GFG.