Exciting things happening at Lethbridge Park Public

Culture is front and centre for a western Sydney school kicking attendance goals, as Kerrie O’Connor reports.

Students holding boxes filled with art supplies. Students holding boxes filled with art supplies.
Image: Lethbridge Park’s Year 5 was on a mission to beat other classes in the attendance stakes and victorious students chose to receive art supplies packs.

Respect for culture is at the heart of a resurgence in attendance at a western Sydney public school.

Lethbridge Park Public, near Mount Druitt, is part of the NSW Department of Education’s Connected Communities Strategy, which embeds culture and community in schooling.

That ethos is seeing an encouraging boost in attendance at the school, and staff go that extra mile to create a learning community that is engaging and welcoming.

The school has created the coveted Purple Star, which is awarded to students with perfect weekly attendance, putting them in the running at term’s end roll into the holidays on a brand-new bike.

Aboriginal artists have also designed brightly coloured shirts.

These hot-ticket items are proudly worn by students kicking attendance goals, such as Aria Harangue in Year 3.

“I love my attendance shirt because it makes me feel confident and the shirt is cool,” Aria said.

Executive Principal Garry Sheen said the shirts paint a positive and high-visibility attendance message in the playground and at home.

“The shirts promote students being at school every day. They support our families and Aboriginal culture,” Mr Sheen said.

Classes vie to win the major term attendance prize, with one victorious class agreeing each student would receive an art supplies pack to support their work.

Yet, Mr Sheen said it is less about competition and rewards, but more cultivating a warm welcome for all, from the moment the school bus pulls up outside a family home, through the school gate and into the classroom.

“Attendance graphs are updated weekly in class and discussed in the morning routine, and attendance is promoted weekly on Facebook to the community,” he said.

“Our bus supports families and students who find it challenging to get to school.”

It was a gamechanger for student Ava Ufi.

“I enjoy getting on the attendance bus,” Ava said.

“It helped me to get my attendance to 99.8 per cent for Term 3. It also helps my family out because my brother goes to another school.”

Catching the bus proved pivotal for 10 students who were challenged to improve their attendance.

“Eight of the targeted students met and exceeded their attendance goal for the term and two demonstrated improved attendance,” Mr Sheen said.

“We attribute this to the daily bus program and connections between school staff and parents and carers.”

Lethbridge Park Public also focuses on supporting students afer hours.

“After school clubs help our students to feel a sense of belonging,” Mr Sheen said.

Students can choose to participate in clubs and activities such as Aboriginal art, digital technology, cooking, gardening, dance, guitar, physical education, science and homework.

“The clubs extend the school day and promote positive connection and interaction with peers and teachers from across the school, leading to improved attendance rates,” Mr Sheen said.

The school tracks and celebrates improvements with personal letters to students and families.

“In Term 3 last year, 150 students attended 95 per cent or more of the time,” Mr Sheen said.

“We attribute this to the engaging teaching practices, exciting school events and clear attendance processes.”

In 2021, the attendance of Aboriginal students was six per cent below the state average, while for non-Aboriginal students, it was 2.4 per cent lower.

There were small improvements in 2022, but in 2023 there was a significant increase when attendance of Aboriginal students jumped to within 1.3 per cent of the state average, while that of non-Aboriginal students rose above the average.

Mr Sheen is excited about the direction the numbers are heading but insists there is still a way to go.

“We are collecting information from students with great attendance to understand why school works for them, and how we can make it work for everyone,” Mr Sheen said.

The school’s Director, Educational Leadership Mark Diamond said parents and carers were active partners in attendance and were well supported by an expert team.

“Quality, equity-driven public education has won hearts and minds,” he said.

“Mr Sheen amplifies student voice and agency, that creates such a strong sense of belonging.

“Children are busting to get through the gates because exciting things are happening at Lethbridge Park Public School.”

Two students standing in front of a wall mural. Two students standing in front of a wall mural.
Image: Wearing a shirt designed by a local artist is a big honour for students who kick attendance goals at Lethbridge Park Public school, such as Aria Halangahu and Maria Donaczy.
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