EngageMeNT - Issue 3

Tony's Message

Welcome to the June edition of EngageMeNT, a monthly newsletter celebrating milestones and achievements from within the Northern Territory Department of Education’s Engagement and Partnerships division.

In response toCOVID-19, the Engagement and Partnerships team has shifted its focus from standard operations, to support students in the Northern Territory to ensure that they continue to have access to quality education.

A key part of the work that has been undertaken this year, has been supporting boarding students. To date, the Engagement and Partnership team has supported the transitioning of more than 1000 boarding students back to school in more than 90 NT communities.

This support has included acting as the conduit between families, boarding schools and the NT schools and supporting schools in the NT to host students who have remained in community due to the fact that they have been unable to return to their boarding school as a result of travel restrictions.

The work of our schools in hosting returned boarders cannot be understated. Principals, teachers and wider school communities have rolled out the welcome mat for boarding students to support their learning while back in community.

As restrictions imposed to prevent transmission of COVID-19 are gradually rolled back, the team is now turning its focus to supporting students to go back to boarding school.

I have been greatly impressed by the dedicated approach Engagement and Partnerships staff have adopted in helping ensure continuity of learning and look forward to seeing these students return to boarding and continue to engage, grow and achieve on their secondary school journeys.

Tony Considine, General Manager - Engagement and Partnerships

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A catchy  rap song promoting school attendance is now being broadcast on television screens, radio stations and social media platforms.

Performed by students from Karama Primary School, Katherine High School and Amoonguna School, the rap will be a key tool in continuing to drive improved attendance in Northern Territory schools.

The project is multi-pronged, with an in-school learning component helping to embed the attendance message in classrooms.

“The project aims to raise awareness around the need to go to school every day and it’s brilliant to have school children delivering that message,” Aderyn Chatterton, Executive Director – Office of the Deputy Chief Executive of the Department of Education said.

“Once the rap goes live on TV, radio and social media, our schools will then be encouraged to produce their own rap songs which feature the messaging that ‘it’s safe to go to school’ and ‘make school your story’.”

Six classroom lessons have been created to help guide schools through the writing, filming and production. The lessons will support teachers to link language, physical activity and arts and media to culture.

“What will make this rap project a powerful engagement tool is that our students are the messengers – delivering key lines which promote the benefits of attending school every day,” Ms Chatterton said.

Rap videos produced by schools will be showcased on Education NT’s Facebook page and broadcast into schools via the department’s VampTV network.

A collaborative can-do attitude and a commitment to making school attendance “everyone’s business” is driving a recent spike in student engagement on Groote Eylandt.

Alyarrmandumanja Umbakumba School recorded its best attendance figures for 2020 last week. Acting Principal Christopher O’Neill said a whole of community approach to improving attendance was key.

“The school is focused on making attendance everybody's business,” Mr O’Neill said.

“We have worked to acknowledge that the principal, teachers, parents, students and community organisations need to work together to best support engaging students in learning. Teachers are making regular visits to families to reinforce positive attendance as well as consulting with families of students whose attendance is low.”

A tiered and targeted approach has been adopted. The school is encouraging regular attenders to try and go to school every day, while less engaged and passive students are also being engaged.

“I have tried to encourage the school and community to create a system where each of our 80 students, those actively and passively enrolled, are being monitored by at least one person or group. This way we are making the most of our resources and each child in the school is being noticed and cared about,” Mr O’Neill said.

“Each week we sort students into those who attend regularly and those who don't. From there we assign three students per class to the Remote Student Attendance Strategy (RSAS) team to students who usually attend school two or three days per week, giving them a focus group of 15 students for the week. Each classroom teacher will identify two students each week and undertake a home visit to encourage attendance. The Student Engagement Officer and I work to engage with another ten students each week whose attendance is very low, while we are also making contact with six passive students each week and trying to remove any attendance blockers.”

Mr O’Neill lent special praise to the work of the Learning on Country and RSAS teams, East Arnhem Shire Council and Bushfit for embracing the push to boost engagement and school attendance.

Minyerri School has left no stone unturned in its efforts to ensure returned boarding students maintain learning momentum while back in community due to COVID-19.

More than 30 students from five boarding schools in Queensland and the Northern Territory were forced back to Minyerri when the nation’s boarding schools were closed.

Minyerri School staff and students welcomed them back with open arms.

“We had to repurpose our library and teacher release room to support classroom learning environments in both spaces,” Principal Jess Robinson said.

“We spent the last weekend of the Easter break cleaning desks and chairs we found in our storage shed to make sure we had enough for two full classes of students. Our IT support teacher made sure we had enough laptops and devices to connect with colleges around the country. We have a great team of teachers here that have just made everything easy and adapted everything so that boarders felt welcomed and could get on with learning in a very different way.“

Returned boarder Kiaasha Hall has been embracing the unique opportunity to study back in community.

“I really like being able to keep on learning while staying with my family,” she said.

“I get to go out hunting and fishing and sometimes we walk to the billabong or river. They (Minyerri School) are supporting us very well by getting us laptops. They also call our boarding school teachers and help us to finish our work.”

Ms Robinson said the returned boarders had also been embraced by existing students.

“Our students love having them here,” she said.

“Particularly the students who have older siblings that would normally be away. I hear the younger ones calling out to their brothers and sisters when they see them moving around the school, usually it’s met with a smile or a wave.”

The school community has also extended a special thanks to staff at Alawa Aboriginal Corporation who have been providing free breakfasts, lunches and snacks for returned boarding school students.

Life is returning to normal at Nhulunbuy High School’s Dawurr Boarding College with students forced home due to COVID-19 now back studying.

Thirteen students from communities across Arnhem Land have returned to boarding school and another seven students are expected to join them in the near future.

Dawurr’s Acting Head of Boarding, Emma Hegerty said students had relished their return to boarding school life.

“The students fell straight back into routine; the energy they brought back was great.”

Ms Hegerty said students had maintained continuity of learning while learning back in their home communities.

“This is due to the great amount of support their community schools provided, which we are so thankful for,” she said.

“Most students continued on with work their teachers had provided, while others took the opportunity to engage in their community school curriculum. Those that were doing remote learning, predominantly idependently, did find it difficult at times without the face to face lessons, however, through the use of online communications platformsand phone contact, they were able to get support and maintain connected with boarding and Nhulunbuy High School.”

Some senior students took up opportunities to embed some cultural learning into NTCET tasks. A student who returned to Garrthalala studied the history of Aboriginal Land Rights in the Northern Territory, while students at Warruwi utilised local knowledge to learn about Aboriginal activist Mondalmi.

A sizeable family tree created by Mulga Bore School students, their parents, and members of the community, is demonstrating societal links to the mother and father of Tommy Bird Mpetyane and renowned painter Lindsay Bird Mpetyane.

The genealogical map captured the attention of a community quarantined to prevent the invasion of coronavirus.

Teaching Principal, Pesala Brown began the enterprise based on a “small part of the Bird family tree I came across in a Darwin gallery”.

“I took a photo of the section because I had worked with the Birds, and knew the family,” she said.

“After my appointment to the school I printed the photo, and with the help of assistant teacher Colleen Wallace we launched the project as part of our Indigenous Language and Culture program, and started to expand the tree.

“We began with Frank Bird and Rosie Nungarri, the parents of Lindsay and Tommy Bird. While Lindsay had three daughters, his brother Tommy had seven children — mostly Mulga Bore residents — including renowned artist Paddy Bird Nungari, now deceased.”

Ms Brown said all the families in the community are related to the Birds, and there were huge gatherings of people wanting to make contributions to the record.

“On a wall-mounted display board we added our photos of (Bird) family members, and then drew all the diverging hereditary connections,” she said.

“We have added skin names and totems belonging to students, their parents and grandparents.

“The tree has expanded our knowledge of country and inspired traditional stories, such as the successful negotiations by Lindsay and Tommy Bird to ensure the return of part of Artartinga Station (Woodgreen Station) to the Anmatyerr people.

“We’ve written a song about Lindsay Bird, his dreaming story, and the history of how he got the land back for his people.”

The tree is an ongoing project, used as a reference point for learning about Country and culture.

A group of passionate educators have not let the limitations of COVID-19 prevent them from coming together to foster strong bilingual education.

Ten participants from the Strong Aboriginal Language Teachers program from six locations across the NT began their training and assessment via online learning in late April.

Once completed, these staff will be able to train and assess in their schools, improving access to training in Aboriginal language contextualised to community.

The Strong Aboriginal Language Teachers program is an initiative of the Bilingual Education and Indigenous Languages and Cultures team, supported by the Aboriginal Educators team.

On completing the program, Teacher Linguists and Senior Aboriginal Language Teachers will receive a Certificate 4 qualification in training and assessing. They’ll also deliver a language skills set to developing assistant teachers and languages teachers.

The skills set is designed to support the development of first language literacy skills and teaching methodologies to enrich the delivery of the Indigenous Languages and Cultures curriculum by assistant teachers in remote and very remote schools.

As students progress though the training and assessing qualification, they will be writing and developing their own local programs in negotiation with language speakers.

Resources will be developed in a number of Aboriginal languages including Warlpiri, Kriol, Djambarrpuyngu, Burrarra, Ndjebbana and Kunjinku

The pilot program will be delivered in Maningrida and Warlpiri Triangle schools.

Last updated: 24 June 2020

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