A kindergarten program helping young refugees get the best start in life was one of the winners at the 2016 Victorian Early Years Awards, held on 18 October at the National Gallery of Victoria.
The annual awards recognise outstanding educators, programs and partnerships and celebrate their lasting positive impact on children and their families, and the wider community.
East Sunshine Kindergarten took out the award for improving access and participation in early learning, recognizing its inspirational work welcoming and supporting newly arrived Chin refugees from Burma.
This was one of six awards presented on the night, including the Early Childhood Teacher of the Year and the Minister's Award.
Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos told the gathering that dedication to early years learning was essential to the Government's vision to make Victoria the Education State, in which every child has the chance to succeed.
"All of tonight's finalists have demonstrated a willingness to go above and beyond to make a difference to the lives of young children and their families," she said.
Meagan Hull (pictured) from Bentons Square Kindergarten in Mornington was named Early Childhood Teacher of the Year for her leadership and her work with pre-schoolers with additional needs.
Ms Hull said she was honoured and saw the award as an acknowledgement of the achievements of her entire team.
The Minister's Award went to the health and wellbeing program, Coaching Koorie Kids, developed by the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service.
Minister Mikakos said the program, by encouraging Aboriginal children to be physically active, eat nutritious food and take care of their oral health, was helping to bridge the gap between health and education outcomes for Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people in Victoria.
The program, which aims to set children up with lifelong healthy habits, has reached around 250 kinder-aged children.
Laura Thompson, Coordinator of the Healthy Lifestyle and Tackling Tobacco Team at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, said: "We really feel like we are making a difference. The children are our best champions."
The award for supporting parents to build their capacity and confidence went to Hume City Council's Family Early Learning Partnership program, which combines maternal and child health and family services to help parents build their skills and create deeper, more positive connections with their children.
"We hope to use the money we've won to help spread the message, not just within our community but in other communities," Hume Council Maternal and Child Health (MCH) nurse Gayle Brandellero said.
A project providing an integrated response to family violence at MCH health clinics won the award for creating collaborative community partnerships.
The project was an initiative of Eastern Community Legal Centre and partners.
Marissa Atkinson, an Indigenous support worker, said: "It's so great to have such a wonderful partnership with a range of disciplines, and just goes to show that many things are difficult but few are impossible."
The award for promoting children's health and wellbeing went to the Goodstart Early Learning Centre for its holistic approach to improving community health outcomes at Jindi Kindergarten at Mernda.
The kinder works with community organisations to offer skill-building and community engagement opportunities to local parents in the fast-growing region.
Department of Education and Training Acting Secretary Katy Haire thanked the finalists for their commitment.
"It is particularly significant to see that many of these programs are specifically targeting some of our most vulnerable children — those who struggle to access the opportunities that many of us take for granted," she said.
The winners in each of the categories received $15,000 to support the development of their programs. The Early Childhood Teacher of the Year winner received $10,000 to further her professional development.
Since their inception in 2006, the awards have contributed more than $600,000 to the further development of many high-quality initiatives, as well as the professional development of the staff behind them.
A record number of nominations - more than 90 – were received for this year's awards.
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