Wilcannia Central School teacher wins ARIA Music Award

Congratulations to 2020 Telstra ARIA Music Teacher Award winner Sarah Donnelley.

26 November 2020
Woman sits on a tree trunk playing a guitar.
Image: Sarah Donnelley is the 2020 Telstra ARIA Music Teacher Award winner.

Sarah Donnelley, one of two NSW Department of Education teachers nominated, was last night crowned the 2020 Telstra ARIA Music Teacher of the Year.

Ms Donnelley, a music teacher from Wilcannia Central School, came to prominence after the school produced a video during COVID-19 showing her students singing along to Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody’s hit song, From Little Things, Big Things Grow.

“We love what you’ve done with the song and getting the kids involved,” Kelly said, with Carmody adding, “that community involvement is the main thing. We’re so proud of them in Wilcannia and I am going to vote for you, my friend.”

Ms Donnelly has long used music to inspire and engage her students, which overall has helped to improve school attendance levels.

In her acceptance speech, she made a special shout out to her school community who have supported her from well before her nomination was announced.

“A massive thank you to the Wilcannia community who have allowed me to enjoy their special place and support me,” she said.

“Thank you to my school staff who every day inspire and challenge me.

“I want to thank everyone who voted, it’s because of you that you have showed our kids that they matter, that people are listening and people care about them.”

Ms Donnelly also made a special mention to her primary school teacher.

“Thank you to my primary school music teacher who impacted my life in ways I didn’t understand until today.

“But most importantly my past students and students of Wilcannia Central School who trust me to go on a learning journey with me every day, they teach me something new every day and they make my job the best in the world.

“If I need to get students from A to B I sing a song; if a child is struggling and needs emotional support I sing with them; it’s a powerful tool in terms of calming and getting a sense of order and also as a way to have fun.”

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell sent her congratulations, acknowledging the importance of teachers being recognised for their hard work.

“Huge congratulations to Sarah for taking out the 2020 Telstra ARIA Music Teacher Award last night,” Minister Mitchell said.

“It’s fantastic to see NSW teachers being recognised on a national level for their amazing work. Well done Sarah.”

Dr Thomas Fienberg, from Evans High School in Blacktown, was also nominated for the prestigious award.

Dr Fienberg oversees the Solid Ground program at Evans High School that encourages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to explore their culture through music.

The program brings industry mentors such as singer Thelma Plum into the school through an artist-in-residence program.

“The Solid Ground program is also about making school a safe place not only for students, but for the wider Aboriginal community to come in and share their stories with students.

“It provides a great means to explore culture and, for our students who don’t always know that much about their culture, to access people who can help them navigate the complexities of being an Aboriginal person in western Sydney.”

Education Secretary Mark Scott congratulated Sarah and Dr Fienberg on their success.

“Both teachers have shown a strong commitment in using music to connect our Aboriginal students to their culture and fostering a sense of identity and belonging,” Mr Scott said.

“The impact of that can be seen at both schools where the music programs play a key role in helping students form a positive connection with their schools and their education.”

The ARIA winner was decided by a combined industry and popular vote.

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