Ngara is how we say hello: language reclamation
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 1, 21 February 2020, page no. 25
Eidsvold State School’s vision is driven by a desire to enhance our school’s cultural capabilities, privilege diversity and promote learning and wellbeing for all our students. Our underlying ethos is based around respecting the expertise of our community, constructing alignment on common ground, and creating sustainable partnerships outside of the school.
Our students present with a variety of diverse needs. We have a 55 per cent Indigenous population, with a high number of these students identifying English as an additional language. Social disadvantage is also reflected through the school’s ICSEA score of 802, while complex family and community situations have previously affected outcomes for our students. Historically, the school was once impacted by disengagement of students, a lack of aspiration, low staff morale and a clear divide between the school and community.
Our Yumbin and language reclamation programs were developed to provide all students with a sense of belonging and connection to themselves, others and their community. Within the programs, there is an underlying ethos that encompasses our ability as a school, staff and community to work together toward the common goal of creating an inclusive, aspirational culture for our students.
The program began at the start of 2017, with the support of the local community and elders group. The specific objectives were to:
- re-engage our Indigenous community members and the elders group and offer them opportunities to provide input into the program and the curriculum
- build staff capabilities in understanding the complexities of Eidsvold’s unique community and to shape high expectation relationships with all students and community members
- create a culture within the school that values and embraces all student, staff and community backgrounds.
Successfully delivering an Indigenous language program has proven to be extremely difficult, as there are no fluent speakers of the Wakka Wakka language in Eidsvold. This means that the program relies heavily on resources and linguistic support. It all began with small steps and only a limited bank of words being used. Progress has now been extended to short phrases and students are beginning to converse with each other in language.
The program has continued to grow rapidly, and the school has now set up a language’s reference group, hired a linguist to quality assure and maintain integrity within the program and employed two Wakka Wakka teacher-aides.
It was important to understand that, as a school, we can influence the next generation of learners towards focusing on diversity, not difference. Data conversations with individual and cohort staff have led to a genuine understanding of our Indigenous students’ achievement. Over time, we have increased staff understanding of achievement levels by developing moderation processes and assessment backward mapping – we have combined this with an understanding of “home language” vs “school language”, high expectation relationships and an ability to competently teach our students using differentiated pedagogical practices. This has shown a drastic improvement in whole-school and Indigenous students’ A-C achievement data across all subject areas.
Our program has also provided the community, particularly local elders and Indigenous parents, with opportunities to reengage and work closely with the school again. We have noticed an increase in attendance for our Indigenous kids and we attribute this to them feeling culturally connected to our school.
Our vision for the program is that it will continue as a sustainable project that provides a platform for further curriculum development. It is important to us that our teaching staff and local community continue to drive the program, and we endeavour to develop their skills. It is equally important that we continue to develop our teachers to better understand our Aboriginal students. We would recommend that other schools embrace this mindset and work with their Indigenous communities to create similar relationships.