Reconciliation at top of Victorian schools’ agenda

Originally published in the July 2016 edition of Australian Teacher Magazine

These days, teacher Lynette George of Beaconhills College is rarely called “Mrs George”. Instead, students know her by her Aboriginal name, Birra.

The Indigenous coordinator has been working at Beaconhills for nine years now to integrate Indigenous education throughout the curriculum; whether that be bush tucker cooking with the Year 8s or teaching Preps the names of Australian animals in the local Wurundjeri language.

Crucial to her work is partnering with local Indigenous people and businesses.

Wurundjeri elder Murrundindi is a regular visitor to the school. Likewise, George says you can “hear a pin drop” when musician Kutcha Edwards speaks to students. At his last session, Edwards held out a photo of a boy who had been taken from his family.

“He stands behind the photo and says ‘this child is me’,” George recalls. “He’s at this time in his 40s and it really hits home to the kids the stolen generation is not 100 years ago…I get Goosebumps just talking about it.”

Now, George is hoping to make those experiences more commonplace at Beaconhills with a school Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

The plan aims to put 80 per cent of the school’s staff through extensive cultural training by the end of 2017, with sessions already well underway.

A whole host of excursion, incursion and classroom activity plans are also in the works, including college-wide protocols on welcome to country and acknowledgement of country.

“We’ve been doing a lot of things in our Indigenous curriculum …but it became obvious to me that we could do a lot more,” George says. “I started to ask myself, as a mum of Indigenous children, ‘what are they learning at school’? And what do we want all children to know about Indigenous culture and history?”

A dedicated Indigenous fund will be set up later in the year to help boost the number of Aborignal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff at the school.

At the RAP launch in May, around 100 people came down to enjoy a feast of “kangaroo sausage rolls and wallaby meatballs” served up by Indigenous chef Colin Atkinson and students. There was also a special performance by the LOTE department, which had translated two Wurundjeri dreaming stories into French.

“[Students] made costumes, they had sound effects and they were very respectful,” George says. “The two children who played Aboriginal people just… had an Aboriginal t-shirt on.”

With the RAP now kicking off in classrooms, George says students and staff alike are excited for what lies ahead.

“It’s just given [teachers] a little bit more confidence and it’s really good because not all teachers get that.”

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