Reconciliation journey helps bridge early learning gap
Port Macquarie Community Preschool is breaking down barriers and boosting enrolments through culturally safe and inclusive service delivery. Rebecca Davis reports.
30 May 2023
Anyone entering one of the two Port Macquarie Community Preschool centres will be greeted with a friendly “wiyabu”, which means hello in Gathang, the language spoken by the Birpai people.
Incorporating Indigenous words into everyday vocabulary is just one initiative the service has adopted to create a culturally safe space and welcome more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families through the door.
Managing Director Megan Jones said the journey started in 2019 with a formal commitment to create a meaningful Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) through the Narragunnawali platform.
Since then, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enrolments has steadily risen from below 5% to 20% across both centres.
“You have to live the RAP. Our Reconciliation journey is every week, it’s every day,” Ms Jones said.
The RAP started some small yet significant steps to embed culture in the preschool’s learning environment, including displaying Indigenous artworks and hanging the Aboriginal flag in their foyer.
Ms Jones said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives slowly became integrated into all aspects of service operations.
“We changed our mindset. It wasn’t just about what we did in our centres, but it was about being in the community,” she said.
The preschool also approached local Aboriginal community Elder Aunty Rhonda Radley to join its Board of Management.
Aunty Rhonda remains an ‘Elder in Residence’ who runs activities with children and educates staff, even though she is no longer a board member,
The preschool also joined the local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) and represented the Aboriginal community at various community events.
“We made it known to the Aboriginal community of our commitment to reconciliation,” Ms Jones said.
Ms Jones said she encouraged her educators to build their cultural responsiveness.
“Targeted professional development and learning opportunities related to cultural competence is a huge priority at our services,” she said.
“It goes a big way to addressing cultural bias.”
One of the most impactful measures was employing a dedicated Aboriginal Engagement Educator.
Lori-Ann McKinnon moves about the various rooms mentoring staff and teaching the children about culture and Country.
“The staff learn a lot from her,” Ms Jones said.
Reflection of culture
In 2020, Port Macquarie Community Preschool underwent major renovations.
A local artist was commissioned to paint a large-scale mural showcasing the preschool as a safe and welcoming space.
“We did so with the mindset of visually incorporating culture,” Ms Jones said.
The preschool joined the Department of Education’s Ninganah No More language revitalisation project in 2022, expanding efforts to incorporate the Gathang language into the service.
This includes a ‘word of the week’ for families where they are introduced to a new Gathang word, with a video link shared to help with pronunciation.
The service also established the bush kinder program, where children learn language on Country, and this month launched a new joint venture project with well-known nursery rhymes reimagined using the Birpai language.
The children have been recorded singing the songs, which have been shared with other local Early Childhood Education and Care services.
“Our non-indigenous families are always commenting about how much they are learning. Most of us didn’t have that opportunity at school,” Ms Jones said.
“We all know education starts way before school. This is part of that education. Building curiosity about culture - the first culture of our country - something the children will hopefully take with them through life.”