Small schools are home to big aspirations

For two regional NSW teachers, a scholarship from the Public Education Foundation will help fulfil their goal of giving students the best education possible.

10 June 2020
A group of students and teachers walk through bushland.
Image: O’Connell Public School principal Patricia Forsyth walks in the forest with students.

Thirty years after starting her teaching career and various roles later, Patricia Forsyth returned home to O’Connell in regional NSW and became the principal of the same primary school she attended as a child.

Having grown up on Yarrabin – a well-established guesthouse located on more than 400 hectares of natural bushland – Ms Forsyth has always had an affiliation with the forest and now uses it as a teaching resource for O’Connell Public School’s 76 students.

Ms Forsyth’s interest in experiential learning began during a school excursion through central Australia in her second year of teaching. Now, after being awarded a $10,000 First State Super Teachers Scholarship from the Public Education Foundation, she hopes to expand her knowledge of forest education.

“I hope to learn more about how the forest environment can be a place where students can thrive, succeed and grow,” Ms Forsyth said.

“This scholarship provides me with the opportunity to study forest education, focusing on promoting confidence, independence and self-esteem through small achievable tasks undertaken in the great outdoors.”

Ms Forsyth first took her students to the forest to give the kids an opportunity to build their own cubbyhouse, which many of them had never done before.

“The kids spent hours building in the bush, working together to design and construct their cubbyhouses,” Ms Forsyth said.

“It was so exciting to witness students who usually struggle in the traditional class environment thrive in the outdoors, so we have been having forest days once a term ever since.

“Our motto at O’Connell Public School is to find the key to our students’ wellbeing and learning and not to stop until we do, and I believe forest education may be the key for many of our students.”

Hannah Rivers from Cudal Public School was awarded the Teachers Health Early Career Scholarship, which provides $10,000 for the professional development of public school teachers in their first three years of teaching.

Originally from the Upper Hunter, Ms Rivers moved to the central west after her partner, also a teacher, was placed in Orange as part of a teaching scholarship.

“I am deeply humbled and honoured to be awarded this scholarship, which will provide me with career-changing opportunities to pursue experiences and professional learning that I would not have access to otherwise,” Ms Rivers said.

“I am excited to implement the new knowledge and skills I gain to improve my teaching and support my local community in the central west.

“I am passionate about students from small and rural schools receiving excellent teaching so that they can achieve their best, regardless of where they live.”

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