Cultural connection an everyday part of learning

As Batemans Bay Public concludes its NAIDOC Week celebrations, we take a closer look at their whole school approach to Aboriginal education. Billy Kos reports.

Two girls holding Aboriginal artefacts. Two girls holding Aboriginal artefacts.
Image: Batemans Bay Public School has worked hard to develop Aboriginal learning programs for all students at the school.

Learning about, through and within culture is an everyday part of learning and growing at Batemans Bay Public School, on Walbunja Country, where every student is given the opportunity to learn about and connect with Aboriginal culture.

Principal Kel Smerdon said the school has worked hard in recent years to develop Aboriginal learning programs for all students at the school.

“At Batemans Bay Public School we have mapped our wellbeing and curriculum programs and built a Preschool to Year 6 and beyond approach to developing a connection for all our students to the lands upon which we learn,” Mr Smerdon said.

“These programs also build knowledge about the Walbunja culture and country within which our school sits proudly.”

During the last week of Term 2, Batemans Bay Public School hosted its annual week-long NAIDOC Week celebrations.

“Teachers and students look forward to NAIDOC Week each year, where our local community joins in with the school to celebrate, share and respect culture,” Mr Smerdon said.

“Students had the privilege of sharing story telling from respected Elder Aunty Loretta Parsley, learned a range of outdoor cultural games and participated in a variety of arts and cultural learning experiences across the week.”

Students and an Aboriginal Elder. Students and an Aboriginal Elder.
Image: Aunty Loretta story telling with year 6 students. She brought in a possum skin cloak and allowed students to try it on.

Mr Smerdon said cultural learning starts with the Mundarra Preschool Dhurga language immersion program delivered by the school’s Aboriginal Education Officer, Trish Towers. The program introduces preschool students to the local language and creates an early connection to culture and country.

It then continues in Stage 1 (years 1 and 2), where students participate in a newly formed Beach and Bush school program while continuing their Dhurga language learning.

“The Beach and Bush school has a purpose-built outdoor learning hub and students venture off site to the beach and the bush each week, where being hands on and getting dirty and wet is totally okay,” Mr Smerdon said.

“Taking from Aboriginal culture, we feel that it is essential for our student’s development and wellbeing that they have a strong sense of place and connection to the land.

“Working with Aunty Trish, and partnerships with local council environment staff, national parks and local Aboriginal community members, supports student learning in the beautiful environment that surrounds our school.”

In Stage 2 (years 3 and 4), the school’s focus turns to building resilient, empowered and robust students who can stand strong through the delivery of the Rock and Water program.

“Following on from the deep connection to place that our students gain in Stage 1, we want to empower our Stage 2 students to be in a position to know themselves, care for others and be ready to lead,” Mr Smerdon said.

“Our Rock and Water program helps students develop confidence and self-reflection through a range of exercises and games, where they learn to stand strong, negotiate, avoid conflict and understand their feelings and personal direction.

“And then, in their final two years of schooling at Batemans Bay Public School, our focus turns to ensuring students can take their connection to country and use their personal power to enact their leadership capacity and forward map their aspirational future pathways.

“They do this by completing leadership experiences, such as the school Kinder buddies program, developing into teens coaching, mentoring and careers coaching.”

While students at Batemans Bay Public School connect with culture every day, NAIDOC Week gives them the added opportunity to celebrate the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“I love NAIDOC Week and I am proud to go to a school that has helped me learn more about Aboriginal people and their culture,” Year 6 student, Archer, said.

Two boys wearing a possum skin cloak. Two boys wearing a possum skin cloak.
Image: Students got to try on a possum skin cloak.
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