Bus and barbecue give boost to Bidwill

Students at a western Sydney public school are leading the attendance charge, as Kerrie O’Connor reports.

Staff standing in front of a bus. Staff standing in front of a bus.
Image: About 26 staff members volunteer on Bidwill Public School’s attendance bus, including Alicia Minervini, Natalie Bell, Matthew Graf (PCYC), Jasper Villasana (PCYC), Bec Brown, Kirsty Dyball, Shania Portelli, Annabelle Baddock, Alex Wilson, Matt Eastman, Michael Bourne, Thaimma Lariosa, Mia Chalcraft and Chelsea Makira.

Senior students at Bidwill Public have a ready answer when asked how they want to make a difference: “improve attendance for the whole school”.

Members of the school’s junior Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) are drawn from years 5 and 6 and meet twice a term.

In 2023, the group set down a challenge to inspire all students to improve their attendance.

Members designed artwork for postcards to be sent to parents and carers when attendance goals were achieved, and students tracked their progress in their classrooms.

The efforts built on those of 15 dedicated teachers and SLSOs (Student Learning Support Officers), whose school day often starts at 7am aboard the PCYC bus, collecting students who would otherwise find it difficult to get to school.

The program runs three days each week and staff members then back up for their normal classroom load.

Executive Principal Michelle Drage said the initiatives had contributed to a six per cent boost in the numbers of students attending more than 90 per cent of the time and an overall improvement of four per cent from 2022 to 2023.

“I am so proud of the teachers and SLSOs for volunteering their time,” she said.

“The bus is run by the goodwill of the staff. We have incredible staff who go above and beyond. Families rely on it and value it.”

Ms Drage said students who enjoy sport, but might have poor attendance, social or self-regulation skills, are also involved in a program with the local PCYC, resulting in a significant improvement in attendance and behaviour.

Every Thursday the school hosts a barbecue breakfast from 7am.

“We knew late arrivals contributed to poor attendance, so the barbecue helps,” she said.

“We have also seen a significant reduction in suspensions. We have worked hard on our wellbeing systems and are working closely with families.”

Conflict resolution, trauma-informed therapy and other programs help staff members to better meet the needs of students.

Classrooms are calmer places and Ms Drage proudly points to a program for 21 senior students, which resulted in better attendance and engagement.

The Learning Ground in Schools program focuses on learning experiences leading to behavioural change.

“One student went from attending school only half the time to 100 per cent attendance,” Ms Drage said.

Bidwill Public School is part of the NSW Department of Education’s Connected Communities Strategy, which puts culture and community at the centre of schooling.

Director, Education and Learning, Mark Diamond, said programs such as Sista Speak were also contributing to a sense of belonging.

“The agency that has been encouraged in the Sista Speak and Junior AECG has been incredible,” he said.

“The notion that ‘school is for me’ is in full swing at Bidwill Public.

“The Aboriginal education team has enabled the ‘student lens’ about engagement and attendance, through these kids and their ideas.

“Student leaders at Bidwill have helped to create strategies that are in service of their peers’ success.”

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