Once shy of acknowledging their culture, Koorie students at Warnambool Primary School today are proud of their heritage - thanks to an award-winning inclusive education program.
The transformation began in 2008, when teacher Jacqui Gore was appointed Koorie coordinator at the school.
At the time, Ms Gore was struck by the limited curriculum approach towards Aboriginal culture and how Koorie students seemed shy of acknowledging their heritage.
'The school’s themes at the time were mostly based on other cultures and world events in history,' Ms Gore says.
'At this stage, only our Koorie kids learnt about Koorie history and culture. To me this didn’t make sense. If we are a society trying to bridge a gap, why are we still isolating?'
'I had the belief that with knowledge came understanding.'
Changing the Tide
Ms Gore consulted with staff, students and parents, local Elders and the wider local community to encourage Koorie and non-Koorie students to start conversations and make cultural connections.
The program ‘Changing the Tide @ Jamo’ was launched. It was specifically developed to deliver positive outcomes for Koorie students and close the gap between Koorie and non-Koorie communities.
Ms Gore says the program started with a term focusing on the country’s First Peoples, the challenges they faced and Aboriginal art, culture and history.
'If each student went home and had some sort of discussion, we could spread understanding organically,' Ms Gore says.
'Our students started to form opinions and were quite vocal about social justice issues and of our past. From there, change naturally evolved.'
Recognition for excellence in Koorie education
Ten years on, ‘Changing the Tide @ Jamo’ has proven so effective, it was recognised at the 2016 Victorian Education Excellence Awards.
The program won the Outstanding Koorie Education Award, and Ms Gore won the Outstanding Primary Teacher Award and the Lindsay Thompson Fellowship.
Used as a case study by Bastow Institute, the program’s principles tie in with the Victorian Government’s commitments under Marrung: Aboriginal Education Plan 2016-2026.
The Plan includes a number of actions aimed at making schools culturally safe environments that are inclusive, responsive and respectful, and that celebrate the identity of Koorie learners.
Ms Gore says one of the most rewarding aspects was the development of cultural pride in the Koorie students. Today, more Koorie students are attending the school to take part in the culturally inclusive program.
'In the early days of the program, we had less than 10 Koorie students in our school,' she says.
'We now have 52 Koorie students from a school population of 520 and the current attendance rate for our Koorie students is sitting at 92 per cent.'
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