Aboriginal culture, pride and identity are embedded in all aspects of Briar Road Public School


10 September 2019

Aboriginal students make up about one third of the 290 enrolments at Briar Road Public School in Sydney’s west. Their culture and identity are an essential part of the school’s framework, says principal Tammy Anderson.

“Aboriginal students feel a great sense of pride that their identity and culture is at the forefront of the school,” says Anderson.

“The love and passion for culture, students and the community are evident in the way in which the school functions each day. It’s done great things for reconciliation across the community. The non-Aboriginal community values this just as much as the Aboriginal community.”

Earlier this year, the school was announced as the winner of the 2018 Arthur Hamilton Award for its outstanding contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education.

A third of the school’s students come from non-English speaking backgrounds and 80 per cent of families are on very low incomes.

Shared vision

Anderson says that when she became principal in 2013, the school had a committed group of experienced staff and a shared vision about where it wanted to take Aboriginal education. “We identified a range of strategies — not just one — to develop Aboriginal education across the school, from preschool to Year 6.”

Each term, staff undertake professional development in Aboriginal culture and learning. Teachers can travel to western NSW on a four-day cultural immersion program to learn on country. Other local schools are invited to send teachers too.

“We want to help develop all staff in a culturally authentic way,” says Anderson. Staff also attend the Stronger Smarter Institute for leadership training to support the school’s high expectations for all students.

Community collaboration underpins Briar Road’s progress and successes. “We have a close working relationship with the local Aboriginal community organisation, which provides health and family services support,” says Anderson. “And we work closely with the local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, which includes a student team that helps us set direction.”

The school’s purpose-built Koori Room is a community hub and cultural resource centre that will soon include a technology-based, self-directed learning space. Nearby, a garden supports the students’ studies into native plants.

“We have conversations with community, and events such as Elders’ luncheons, or dinners where the parents can share a meal with the staff.

“We want to create strong and sustained relationships,” says Anderson. “We invite parents out on excursions — such as bush tucker walks, or to the Dreaming Animals Show at Taronga Zoo — and talk about what we’re doing at school.

“We want to get feedback from parents about how to best support their children.”

Long-term links

Briar Road’s preschool transition program is in its second decade and helps local Aboriginal children and their families prepare for the early years of learning.

Aboriginal girls in the school’s ‘Sista Speak’ program visit the preschool and read to the young children, developing friendships and curiosity about starting school the next year. “It’s been a hugely successful initiative,” says Anderson.

The school’s staff provide information to the preschool teachers about the Year 1 curriculum and what students can expect from their first days at school. In turn, the preschool staff help the school with cultural knowledge and how to support Aboriginal learners in the early years, says Anderson. “This gives our kids a great start.”

Other transition programs help students who need extra support to return to school, and Year 6 students to prepare for high school.

Former students stay connected, returning as staff, teachers and mentors. “A former school captain is here now supporting us with a health program called ‘Got it’ run by Health NSW,” says Anderson.

Anderson attended Briar Road Public School and attributes her professional success to her own primary education, her time at the local high school and the strong community. “I’ve come home and it’s a wonderful feeling,” she says.

Briar Road Public School aims to achieve and sustain best practice; it invests time each year to reflect on its progress and to identify next steps.

“We want to meet the vast range of needs for the Aboriginal students and community at our school. And we see that our non-Aboriginal students are benefitting from that as well.”

By Krista Mogensen. Photo George Fettin.

This article originally appeared the Australian Educator Spring 2019.