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Aboriginal Education

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My name is Mr Culbert and I am a first year graduate teacher working with stage two in the primary department at Hillsong Public School. I have been given the task, with the support of my fellow colleges, of developing strategies to improve Aboriginal education within our school. The strategies will include: suggesting ways to engage the local Aboriginal community and form a close partnership with them; suggesting ways to effectively utilize the Aboriginal Education Officer that has been contracted to our school; coming up with suggestions to better recognise Aboriginal society and culture within our school; and finally outline the obligations of teachers who are working with Aboriginal children as well as organisations that can be of use.

Hillsong Public School is a central school located in a large town. There are 1276 students from K-12 with approximately 150 of them being Aboriginal students. The school does not currently have a strong relationship with the local Aboriginal community with a small number of activities planned around NAIDOC week being the extent of its connections with them.

Local Aboriginal Community Partnerships

While Hillsong Public School is regularly involved in community NAIDOC week celebrations, we believe connecting with the local Aboriginal community on a more regular basis will strengthen bonds and ultimately benefit both students and community members.

Firstly, a Welcome to Country will be undertaken at the beginning of all the school's formal assemblies and events (Department of Education and Training, 2005). Consultation with groups such as the local Aboriginal Land Council will be made in order to get recommendations on appropriate people to give the Welcome to Country. This would ensure the correct custodians of the land would be completing the task.

The recognition of other indigenous cultural events will also occur throughout the year. Events such as Harmony Day, Reconciliation Week, Indigenous Peoples Week, as well as appropriate traditional celebratory events will all be acknowledged with engaging activities that will support Aboriginal education within the school (ABC, 2011). Inviting local elders, dancers, and artists to participate in these events will be beneficial to the students and allow for alternate views relating to that particular event. Families of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students will also be invited to strengthen the idea of the school being a community hub (Williams-Boyd, 2012). Having these events at a local park, to begin with, may be good idea as families may feel uncomfortable stepping into an institution such as a school.

Aboriginal culture will be integrated across the schools curriculum. To support this, members of the local Aboriginal community, as well as from local organisations will be invited to share stories, performances, demonstrations and other cultural lessons with the students. If the speaker cannot come to the school for a particular reason, it is possible to use the schools bus to transport students to a location of convenience. The speaker will be involved in the planning of the content to be presented as well as the time and location of the presentation. The speaker will also be given freedom to bring a friend, or family member in order to either support them with further knowledge, or simply make them feel more comfortable (Board of Studes NSW, 2008).

Another strategy to strengthen the partnership between the school and the local Aboriginal community is to invite key members to meetings that involve making decisions about the school. This would allow them to have a voice in how the school is run, as well as offer suggestions on how to improve various aspects, including Aboriginal education. Holding meetings at a community hall or location away from the school may encourage more people to agree to participate (Price-Robertson & McDonald, 2011).

Finally, ensuring the community understands the schools 'open door policy' which applies to not only students and parents, but also other community members will help strengthen the Aboriginal community/school partnership (Department of Education and Training, 2011).

Aboriginal Education Officer

Another way the school will effectively integrate its own community with the surrounding community is by using the local Aboriginal education officer (AEO) that has been designated to our school by the Department of Education and Training via the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (Department of Education and Training, 2003).

The AEO assists the school first and foremost by acting as a link with the local community. The AEO's connections will be extremely valuable in strengthening the school's partnership with the community. They will also be there to support any visitors and be able to assist them in the planning of their presentations .

The AEO will work with teachers to develop an Aboriginal education curriculum that incorporates appropriate resources and content. They can give advice/assist with delivering sensitive topics and inform on cultural boundaries that may occur in some areas (Board of Studes NSW, 2008).

The AEO will also help encourage the Aboriginal students by being a positive role model, which may inspire to achieve their potential. By working closely with the classroom teacher, the AEO will demonstrate and encourage the students to develop a good relationship with their teacher. If this is achieved, studies have shown that Aboriginal students are more likely to actually come to school and remain engaged (Godfrey, Harslett, Harrison, Padington, & Richer, 2000).

On a whole school level, the AEO will be there during staff meetings to present the Aboriginal Education and Training Policy (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2008). This will help give teachers a better understanding of the policies and in turn, allow them to feel more comfortable using the different teaching strategies. The AEO will be able to answer any questions or queries relating to this policy and provide strategies the teachers can use the classroom when teaching Aboriginal students.

The AEO will be asked to lead the various cultural events run by the school. This includes reaching out to local Aboriginal community members to become involved, leading a team of students/teachers in coming up with, organising, and running various activities on the day, and ensuring the integrity of the event remains its focus, i.e. Aboriginal history, culture, values and so on.

Finally the AEO will be asked to be involved with a mentor program with the Aboriginal students. This will help give the students confidence and focus, and will contribute to closing the achievement gap



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