Elders and youth: Connecting through culture
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 6, 16 August 2019, page no. 24
The QTU is proud to be sponsoring the Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education category in this year's Showcase Awards. In coming issues, we will be giving the regional winners from around the state the chance to share their ideas. First off is Laidley District State School's "Elders and youth: Connecting through culture"
Laidley District State School can boast of a passionate staff and improving academic data. Nevertheless, like most schools, ours faces challenges, particularly associated with our low socio-economic community and engaging students, parents and community groups and agencies.
Our goal is improving the outcomes for our Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander community through building an awareness of and experiencing Culture in our school.
After spending 12 months at LDSS, there were several factors which led me to the realisation that work needed to be done.
- 22 per cent of the total population of 400 children identify as Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander.
- Some of the children who identified as ATSI had disengaged from learning and were disrupting the learning of others.
- There was a slight stigma of separation between ATSI children and the remaining population, which I felt could develop into a deep-rooted issue if not addressed.
- Our local community was clearly seeking a school that valued the acceptance of the Indigenous Australian Culture.
In 2018, a vision for developing a connected culture in our school was developed. An ambitious and passionate deputy principal, Erika Hassett, bravely took up the challenge of changing people’s mindset, enhancing partnerships and embedding a culture of inclusion and acceptance in our school.
Erika began by building relationships with agencies that would offer programs of instruction to our ATSI students. We found that agencies such as Kambu, Queensland Health, Spirit of the Valley and PCYC were keen to join us in our vision, and each provided programs of excellence and regular assistance.
The talents of Aunty Kathy Ott, who we employed as a teacher-aide, were recognised early. Her passion for people and her culture led her to working not just with children but with parents. She assisted them with parenting and even helped some find their ancestry. This work quickly built a sense of trust within the community.
Soon after Aunty Kathy’s employment, we employed John Parsons, known widely in this community for his work as a professional Indigenous dancer. Johnno worked with children to form a dance troupe. He came with a talent for connecting with children and a great way of communicating with them.
Aunty Kathy and Johnno’s work led to developing an Indigenous language program which was taught in most classes throughout the school.
Through “Spirit of the Valley”, Elders from throughout south-east Queensland came to our school to watch the dance, language and song which was now embedded in our school. This was a great time of celebration.
The school now has a regular didgeridoo program organised by Moreton Health; a regular deadly choices program, a regular languages program, and a dance troupe.
The greatest impact of this work is the inclusiveness and connectedness that has been built between cultures. This has translated into building a strong positive profile of the school in our community and improved pride across cultures.
Student attendance has improved on the days that our Indigenous teacher-aides work and on days when we have initiatives specifically for our ATSI students. Our attendance data shows an improvement from 87.5 per cent to 89.8 per cent in the term one period from 2018 to 2019.
Our behaviour data shows a significant reduction in violent incidents (physical misconduct and defiance/threats to adults) recorded in OneSchool. The number of incidents recorded, in general, has dropped from 2.84 to 1.34 incidents per day on average across 2016 to 2018.
Closing the Gap data from 2015 to 2018 shows that we are closing the gap in our year five data. We still have work to do but are encouraged by the improvement.
Teacher testimonials outline the success the programs have had and particularly, the capability and confidence that has developed in our teachers.
Embedding a connected culture has been an exciting journey, one that is far from finished. It was an honour to accept the Regional Showcase award for 2019 - it is a greater honour to see children’s and family’s lives enhanced by the work done in this area in our school.