Cooerwull Public School was recently recognised for its work in improving the cultural life of its indigenous students.
The Wudhagaragarra Award for ‘Outstanding School’ recognised five years of work to implement programs focused on improving educational outcomes for indigenous students.
The changes have included the introduction of a yarning (yalbilinya) room, which includes resources and teaching assistance for students to explore their cultural identity. An outdoor yarning circle designed by Uncle Owen Smith has become a showpiece.
For Cooerwull Aboriginal Education Officer (AEO) and teacher’s aide Kym Cama, seeing this develop has been incredibly satisfying. She was a Cooerwull Public student herself and said she would have loved to see her culture reflected more in the school.
“It’s a place where people can come together and understand culture, get their friends involved and not be scared – to celebrate it,” she said.
“I remember when I did one of my first projects at school, there were these little project kits you could do and – I’ll never forget it – I had to go down to the paper shop and specially order one in on Aboriginal culture. Because there were not any at the school.
“It’s wonderful to think how far we’ve come.”
A group of girls, some of whom are non-indigenous, have been learning traditional dances and were proud to have the opportunity to perform them at Cooerwull Public School’s 150th celebrations last year.
Uncle Owen Smith works with students to learn more about the traditional making and use of boomerangs, clapsticks and the didgeridoo. Students can come to read, to complete indigenous-inspired jigsaw puzzles and to research projects.
“It’s focused on closing the gap, the gap between education outcomes for children,” Ms Cama said.
It is also focused on wellbeing, offering a safe space for students who are in need of additional support.
The programs have been reaching out to parents, hosting workshops to try to draw more indigenous parents to become involved.
Cooerwull Public School has made the Yarning Room available for community uses as well, allowing other organisations to host meetings including the Lithgow Healthy Footprints, Breast Screening workshops and Aboriginal Education Consultative Group meetings.
Most recently, another room has been made available to host a playgroup for Aboriginal families. Ms Cama said she hoped the playgroup would make it easier for these children, many of whom would go on to be future students, to adapt.