A pilot program being run at Kempsey Adventist School has recently been recognised for its innovative initiative to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Indigenous Education and Boarding Australia (IEBA) has awarded its Excellence in Indigenous Education and Boarding Leadership award to The Waratah Project, created by the Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW) to meet the cultural and learning needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
The program was introduced to four NSW independent schools with higher than average enrolments of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students in 2016, including Kempsey Adventist School.
"It's an ongoing program at the school and its aim is to improve the outcomes for Indigenous students," Kempsey Adventist School Dean of Learning, Leanne Ritchie, said.
"We are currently in phase three of the program and have identified literacy and numeracy as two areas to focus on."
The program has also allowed the school to invite local Indigenous Elders to help facilitate some of the learning activities.
"We have three Dunghutti staff members and have also held art classes that Indigenous Elders have helped teach," Ms Ritchie said.
"We're also looking at introducing language classes for the students."
The Waratah Project has since expanded to 12 more schools with the initial four schools acting as a hub.
AISNSW Chief Executive Dr Geoff Newcombe AM said the IEBA award recognises the dedication and expertise of AISNSW's Regulations and Programs team who created and delivered The Waratah Project.
"The award is a credit to them and reflects their commitment to indigenous students and the schools who delivered personalised learning in such a supportive environment," he said.
The Waratah Project's key priority is to improve literacy and numeracy among the 649 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled in the 16 participating schools.
"Each school then tailored its projects to reflect and respond to their unique circumstances and what was most appropriate for their students," Dr Newcombe said.
"Many schools had their staff visit the students' original home school, and their family and community, to increase their awareness and understanding of each student's needs, culture and prior learning.
"This improved their understanding of students' learning needs and capabilities, making the schools more able to directly target each student's academic development, build strong relationships with their family and community and provide culturally sensitive personal, spiritual, social and physical support."
Dr Newcombe said the 27 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander staff involved across participating schools were an essential part of the project's success.
Learnings from the first two phases have informed the design and implementation of the next stage of the project, which has been expanded to 25 schools.
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