Backpacks brighten back to school at Kimberwalli

A program to give Aboriginal students a positive start to their school year is having an impact in classrooms. Olivia Grey reports.

Image: Bursting those first-day blues: Jarnzel was delighted to take part in the Kimberwalli back to school event.

Kimberwalli, meaning ‘many stars’ in Dharug language, lived up to its name last week, as many stars descended on the centre to collect school bags and supplies.

Thousands of students and their families from across western Sydney made their way to Kimberwalli, in Whalan, to collect a backpack full of school supplies as part of a back-to-school initiative by the Aboriginal Centre for Excellence.

From future police officers to paramedics, ballerinas to barristers, star students excitedly received their backpacks containing everything from glue sticks, lead pencils, workbooks, twist-up crayons and even scientific calculators for high school students.

Once families had collected their supplies, they were treated to a barbecue, face painting and live music by The Donovans.

Kimberwalli director Kelly Stanford said starting day one of the 2023 school year with all their equipment would help provide students with the confidence they needed to do their best at school.

“Our goal for the initiative is to empower our young people to feel confident on their first day of school, and to feel that they have everything they need to be successful and thrive in the classroom,” Ms Stanford said.

“Last year we dusted off 300 backpacks out of our storeroom and were excitedly waiting to see if all 300 would be collected. We were absolutely blown away when we had more than 2000 students register to collect a backpack, and it’s so exciting that we are able to meet that incredible number again this year.”

Five-year-old Jarnzel started school this year and was thrilled by the entire event. The contents of his backpack, the police officers in attendance and his fabulous face paint provided the perfect preparation for kindergarten.

“He’s so excited and we are so grateful for this awesome event. He’s got all he needs to start kindy and do really well; we love Kimberwalli,” Jarnzel’s mum Naomi said.

“We’ve been able to hear directly from the students how much these backpacks have supported them to feel really confident when they step into the classroom; ensuring they have everything they need,” Ms Stanford said.

“We’ve also heard from parents, carers and families that having access to the backpacks has allowed them to use the $150 back-to-school vouchers to purchase lunch boxes, healthy food, uniforms, good-quality shoes and other crucial items that they may not otherwise be able to afford.

“The families are so grateful, and we hear from them throughout the year the impact that the backpacks make. We also hear amazing feedback from teachers who notice a dramatic difference in the engagement and participation when kids have all they need at school.”

Kimberwalli works in partnership with the local community to support young people and their families to reach their full potential by engaging with culture, connecting with community, and learning more about themselves.

“Initiatives like this don’t come together overnight. We are so grateful to work closely with the local Police Area Command, Department of Communities and Justice and other community organisations to ensure we can provide students with the best preparation for school, and a culturally safe place to grow and develop into amazing people,” Ms Stanford said.

“I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to achieve over the past two years with the back-to-school initiative and I can’t wait to see how it grows in the future.”

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