The school that wears its culture on its sleeve

As the Class of 2023 begins its HSC journey, Kristi Pritchard-Owens speaks to one group of Year 12s making a sartorial statement.

Image: A-Peeling: Staff and students model the jersey, from left, Billy Stanton (Aboriginal Education Officer), Thora Flett, designer Shakayla Spearim, Aaliyah Morely, and Bradley Withers (AEO/School Learning Support Officer).

When Tamworth’s Peel High School asked its incoming HSC students if they wanted to have Aboriginal artwork on their Year 12 jerseys, every single one said yes.

One of those students was Shakayla Spearim, a Gomeroi and Dunghutti woman, who is considered an emerging artist.

“A lot of teachers suggested I design it, so I went home to talk to mum about it,” Shakayla said.

“She said I should go for it because I would be the first Aboriginal person to design a jersey for Peel High School.

“It makes me very proud of myself and my peers.”

The circular patterns in Shakayla’s design represent equality between the different cultures represented at the school, while the dots are a symbol of the next generation of student leaders.

Peel High School and the Class of 2023 have other reasons to be proud.

The school, on Kamilaroi land, has its largest cohort of students identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander to enrol in the HSC – 47 students out of 103.

Across the school, 44 per cent of students identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

“Promoting culture is extremely important,” Peel High School executive principal Erica Burge said.

“This year we opened our yarning circle; we’re focused on improving cultural safety across the entire school.”

For students like Shakayla, seeing teachers and the whole school continue working towards genuine cultural connection makes her feel respected and safe.

“It makes me feel happy and emotional, knowing that past generations didn’t have the opportunity that we have, and knowing that we get the support we need,” she said.

“Knowing I had a lot of support made me a better leader and set me in the right direction.”

Year Adviser Casey Barnett has seen how Shakayla supports other students, regardless of age or year level.

“A lot of the younger kids really look up to her, and it’s really good, because you can’t be what you can’t see,” Miss Barnett said.

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