Tumut Community Preschool

Located on Wiradjuri Country, Tumut Community Preschool is an early childhood education service that is deeply committed to empowering its staff, children and families to respect, acknowledge and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. Service Manager of Tumut Community Preschool Tess Herring shares how her community preschool has been delivering targeted initiatives under its Reconciliation Action Plan which lead to receiving the 2021 National Narragunnawali Award. The award recognises and celebrates outstanding reconciliation initiatives in early childhood education services.

Could you tell us a bit more about Tumut Community Preschool, the Aboriginal Land your service operates on and the focus on reconciliation at your service?

Tumut Community Preschool is situated on Wiradjuri Country, where our service has been operating for over 60 years. Our focus and work on reconciliation is a core priority at our service.

In 2015 we began the Reconciliation Action Plan process, as all staff identified the need to integrate our First Nations culture into our service.

This initially involved critical self-reflection of our practices and recognition that all our educators needed to have a strong understanding of historic and contemporary issues, and a high level of cultural competency. Our educators are passionate about reconciliation within early childhood education.

Throughout this process we have built strong relationships with the local Wiradjuri community and Elders. From the beginning they shared this journey with us, as we first focused on removing barriers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to attend our service.

Over time, we continued to develop our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and have used a range of resources from the Narragunnawali Platform. Our RAP is a living document and as a team we conduct yearly self-assessments that we use to continue to inform our reconciliation strategy.

We have embedded reconciliation into all elements of our business which is evident in our philosophy, meetings and staff goals. All staff assist in the delivery of the RAP and key deliverables are included within their individual performance goals.

How are you engaging children at Tumut Community Preschool in the RAP process?

The most wonderful part of our RAP work is the relationships developed between our staff and children, with the Wiradjuri Elders and community. These relationships have been built overtime through a gentle and respectful process. For us this is what reconciliation is all about, the repair and fostering of these relationships.

Our children, prior to the recent restrictions, adored the regular visits from Wiradjuri Elder Uncle Pat Connolly who shared culture and knowledge. Uncle Pat is such a big part of our service.

We include First Nations perspectives, including truthful history and culture, within our curriculum, and a large part of our focus incorporates social justice.

The children are purposefully taught about respect, anti-racism and discrimination. As a service we recognise these issues need to be addressed as part of reconciliation.

We don’t shy away from these topics and our educators have ongoing discussions with the children, either through planned activities or spontaneous teachable moments.

Also, we have been working closely with the local Aboriginal community to develop a formal Wiradjuri language program, Yalmambirra (teach), which is due to start next year.

With endorsement from the Elders, two of our non-Indigenous educators have completed a TAFE NSW Certificate I in Indigenous Language, to support and continue delivery of this program to the children.

How has your families and wider community engaged with this focus at the service?

As a service we’re responsible for not just educating our children but also taking our families on the reconciliation journey with us. We know that for some of our parents their understanding of First Nations peoples can be limited, as it has been largely excluded from our educational narrative.

This has required a level of competence within our staff to be able to have those conversations with families and the children also educate their families too.

We now have families enrolling their children at our service as they specifically want them to be educated on the issues of reconciliation and social justice and to engage meaningfully with First Nations culture.

How did you feel being awarded the 2021 Narragunnawali Award, recognising your Reconciliation Action Plan work?

Our Reconciliation Action Plan has been a journey for our service since 2015, becoming a daily part of our operations over this period.

Our service is committed to reconciliation, staff feel passionate and believe our children have a right to learn about their own country and our First Nations peoples.

Our service was blown away when we were announced as a 2021 winner - it’s really been amazing!

We hope the recognition of our ongoing work can inspire other services across NSW. Our growth can show all services that they can and should be delivering a Reconciliation Action Plan, towards a reconciled Australia.

Visit the Narragunnawali website for more information.

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