Balnarring Pre-school on the Mornington Peninsula has won the school and early years category of the 2020 HART Awards.
The HART Awards recognise Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people working together in Victoria to build relationships, respect and understanding while demonstrating a commitment to Aboriginal self-determination.
The kindergarten was recognised for its Living and Learning with Country pedagogy and practice.
The Victorian Local Governance Association and Reconciliation Victoria announced the seventh annual HART - Helping Achieve Reconciliation Together - Awards in a virtual ceremony in June 2020. Local Government Victoria and Bank Australia support the awards.
Balnarring Pre-school teacher and educational leader, Karen Anderson, said the honour encouraged everyone to keep learning and listening, including the broader local community, which had embraced the kindergarten's commitment to reconciliation and learning about Aboriginal cultures.
'It's really exciting to know a tiny little centre can have that impact, rippling beyond our centre, which is run by volunteers,' she said.
This is the first year the HART Awards had a category for schools and early years entrants.
'It's (the award) an affirmation that we are being respectful in our commitment to reconciliation and that the work we are doing is valuable for not only the children we are teaching but also the community,' Ms Anderson said.
It is the third honour recognising the kindergarten's commitment to reconciliation and to building relationships with the Land and Boon Wurrung Elders, N'Arwee't Carolyn Briggs and Fay Stewart-Muir.
The team took the 2020 HART Awards finalist position for the third year in a row for its Bundjil Nest Project and festival, honouring and celebrating First Peoples' cultures.
Now in its fifth year the Bundjil Nest Project also enables educators to participate in professional development opportunities to gain a greater understanding of First Peoples' history and cultures giving them the confidence to include this in their curriculum. In 2019 a waang (crow) sculpture joined the Bundjil Nest sculpture in Robertson's Park at Balnarring Beach.
In 2017 the Balnarring Pre-school team was named finalist of Reconciliation Australia's Narragunnawali Award in early learning.
The Narragunnawali Award recognises exceptional commitment to reconciliation in education across the country, and Balnarring's recognition demonstrated the importance of cultural and community connectivity.
A decade in the making
Ms Anderson said the journey began almost 10 years ago in a 'very intentional way' to incorporate the voices of First Peoples who have strong connections with Country.
The kindergarten, with 94 children enrolled, embeds the perspectives of First Peoples into everyday practice through a variety of initiatives including an annual community festival and professional development for all staff.
Boon Wurrung Elder N'Arwee't Carolyn Briggs approached the preschool to illustrate her stories.
Ms Anderson said the children's strong connection with Country influenced their illustrations featured in the two books published so far, with a third book in production.
She said in addition to the children, staff and families also learned about the First Peoples' history through engaging with each story. 'The learning goes beyond the kindergarten, through the Bundjil Nest Project,' she said.
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