Reconciliation in Education: Yarrawarrah Public School

Image: Yarrawarrah Public School Principal Kyleigh Nash with Year 6 student and Aboriginal Ambassador

What works to support reconciliation at Yarrawarrah Public School

This case study describes Yarrawarrah Public School’s approach to its Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). It looks at how Yarrawarrah Public School used Reconciliation Australia's Narragunnawali Platform to develop its RAP and foster knowledge and pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions for students, staff and the school community.

School context

Yarrawarrah Public School was established in 1969 on the traditional lands of the Dharawal people in the Sutherland Shire. The school has a student population of approximately 249; 4% of these students from an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background.

Yarrawarrah Public School describes itself as having a strong emphasis on sustainability and the environment, enjoying a native bush setting and close-knit community. The school's learning community values the individuality and wellbeing of each student. Through high expectations, evidence-based practices, explicit teaching and a knowledge-based curriculum, the school aims to provide educational excellence and develop the potential of all students.

Reconciliation at Yarrawarrah Public School: an overview

Kyleigh Nash has been part of developing two school RAPs before becoming principal at Yarrawarrah Public School in 2019. When recounting one of her first experiences at the school, Kyleigh said, “I was looked at like an alien for delivering an Acknowledgement of Country. People weren’t familiar with the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG), so it was very much “ground up” work. As a principal, I had to have some challenging conversations with the whole school community about the importance of learning about Dharawal Culture on Dharawal Land”.

Image: Aboriginal Ambassador at Yarrawarrah Public School

Developing the RAP as a small school

Yarrawarrah began developing its RAP in 2020. With interruptions during Covid lockdowns and factoring in consultation with the local AECG, Elders and community, it took almost three years to finalise.

Being a small school with limited resources, Kyleigh knew her executive team needed to feel supported, saying that, “Rather than looking at the RAP as a big task, it’s about looking at what’s already happening and formalising it.”.

The school utilised the Narragunnawali platform and professional learning resources to generate ideas and map actions. They also made the platform work for them by assigning tasks to a position rather than an individual. This allowed for greater flexibility around staff movements while not delaying progress.

Fostering a culturally safe environment

For Yarrawarrah, fostering a culturally safe environment involves prioritising the professional learning of staff and making sure that culture is visible. This means having an Acknowledgement of Country plaque at the front of the school and on every classroom door, frequently utilising the yarning circle, commissioning artwork from Dharawal artists and working closely with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and Elders.

The school also has an Aboriginal Education Coordinator who plays a key role in building relationships with the local Aboriginal community, ensuring that they are active and engaged members of the school community and have the opportunity to build important cultural connections with students.

Centring student voices

Kyleigh says, “It’s important to have conversations with students. It’s their school and it’s key to understand what they’d like to see happening. Most importantly, it’s about the children having choice and agency over culture within the school and being comfortable sharing culture with their peers.” To achieve this, Yarrawarrah repurposed the Narragunnawali survey questions to be age appropriate.

Identifying that students wanted their own Acknowledgement of Country, local Elder Uncle Shayne was invited into the school to help students work on their personalised acknowledgements. The school also offers a Yarn Up program as a non-scripture option. The program is run as an Aboriginal cultural lesson with many of the Aboriginal families coming in to help facilitate. This has been a huge success and now the most popular choice for students.

Ensuring families feel safe

In the last five years, the number of students identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander has increased. Kyleigh attributes this to the investment in Aboriginal education.

She says, “The school now has that positive reputation for being a culturally safe space and this is reflected in the ‘Tell Them From Me’ survey results”. The survey is a key tool used for measuring student engagement and wellbeing in NSW public schools.

The school has had success building relationships with parents and carers by making interactions informal and positive and being mindful of past interactions families may have had with schools. “After hosting events like BBQs, parents are more likely to knock at my door to share ideas or talk about things they’d like to contribute,” says Kyleigh.

Taking a network approach

Kyleigh presented to Metro South at the 2022 Principals Conference about the positive impact a RAP could have on a school community. At the time, Yarrawarrah was one of only 41 schools in NSW with a completed RAP. She’d love to see that number grow and believes taking a network approach and working collaboratively with a group of schools and the local community could help relieve some of the burden.

“Being able to have those open conversations and be comfortable with not knowing everything, but willing to seek out those who do,” is key to getting a RAP up and running, says Kyleigh who is currently helping schools do just that in the Woronora River and Fairfield School Networks. Through this, she is delivering professional learning alongside her own resources to make it even easier for schools.

Want to know more?

Visit Reconciliation Australia's Narragunnawali Platform and join the conversation on the Viva Engage ‘Reconciliation Action Plan Group’. You can also subscribe to the RAP newsletter.


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