Northern suburbs school builds bridges with indigenous Kimberley students

Yiyili Aboriginal Community School principal Alex Mountford and St Stephen's School global programs director Mark Fielding.
Yiyili Aboriginal Community School students (back) Aleah Imberlong (Year 3), Shantaysha Gallagher (Year 3), Sharona Hester (Year 3), Devina Munroe (Year 1), Sierra Imberlong (Pre-Primary) with St Stephen's School Year 9 students Charlotte Beale, Carina Stephenson, Caitlin Bailey and Emma Farmer
Yiyili Aboriginal Community School principal Alex Mountford and St Stephen's School global programs director Mark Fielding. Yiyili Aboriginal Community School students (back) Aleah Imberlong (Year 3), Shantaysha Gallagher (Year 3), Sharona Hester (Year 3), Devina Munroe (Year 1), Sierra Imberlong (Pre-Primary) with St Stephen's School Year 9 students Charlotte Beale, Carina Stephenson, Caitlin Bailey and Emma Farmer

A NORTHERN suburbs school is helping bridge the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

St Stephen’s School Duncraig and Carramar signed a memorandum of understanding in 2015 with Purnululu and Yiyili Aboriginal Community schools in the Kimberley.

This has resulted in reciprocal learning opportunities for staff, digital learning support from the Perth school and student service tours, with a group of year 9 and 10 students and staff recently returning from a 10-day visit to the schools.

Global programs director Mark Fielding said the school was “committed to reconciliation in a meaningful and engaging way, not tokenistic”.

“We want to build a long term relationship and getting kids together in a meaningful way is the best way to build empathy and understanding,” he said.

A Year 6 group also does a tour and students spend time at the schools helping with everything from maintenance jobs to helping in the classroom and running discos.

Dr Fielding said it improved students’ self-esteem and they learned the “world is bigger than their backyard”.

“They come back very excited, very motivated; they feel like they’ve made a contribution,” he said.

“It gives them a different view of the world that I believe is far more mature and more centred.”

He believed Australia was facing a big challenge with ongoing disadvantages for indigenous people.

“The big benefit for the kids is building bridges of meaningful understanding between white Australia and indigenous Australia,” he said.

“It’s just a privilege seeing Aboriginal people living on their land and doing it well.

“We can’t reproduce this inside our schools.”

Yiyili principal Alex Mountford was a guest speaker at St Stephen’s recent staff expo and said the partnership was extremely beneficial for her students and teachers.

“I think working in a smaller context and working in a remote location can become a bit insular, so I think making networks outside Yiyili is really beneficial and I always love sharing the story of the school,” she said.

“The school is amazing, being built by the Elders themselves in the 1980s, so it’s an independent school set up by the community itself and I think that’s a really powerful story in terms of indigenous people having real ownership and agency in their own futures.”

The school is 120km from Halls Creek and caters to 64 students from kindergarten to Year 10, who Ms Mountford said appreciated the visits.

“Our kids really enjoy showing kids from the outside their country and they feel a lot of pride in being able to share that knowledge with them,” she said.

“They always start off shy but they soon get to know each other really well and they do enjoy hearing about life in other places.

“There’s a lot of commonality and experience in childhood; all our kids have iPhones, they can make connections over everyday life pretty quickly.”

She said professional support offered by St Stephen’s was important, from technical assistance to sharing teaching ideas and management help, and the “ongoing, in depth relationship” between the schools was critical as the community had a very transient white population.

“There is a bit of fatigue always meeting new outsiders, getting to know them and just as you’re feeling comfortable with them they move on to other opportunities,” she said.

“So anything where there are familiar faces the community really likes because they love that familiarity and they love not having to be constantly re-establishing relationships.”

The schools have discussed the possibility of Yiyili students visiting St Stephen’s and the potential for a staff exchange.

Ms Mountford is originally from Melbourne and said the longer she spent at the school, the more similarities she saw between both communities.

“Everyone wants their child to be healthy and strong,” she said.

“Sometimes cultural background means you go about that in different ways but there’s a lot we have in common so perhaps when there’s no opportunities to interact those barriers seem bigger than they really are.”

MORE: Pair revved up after Pixar says yes to Toy Story-themed car for Variety Bash

MORE: Perth to get first Lindt chocolate shop

MORE: Federal members join calls for further extension to Mitchell Fwy

MORE: Perth’s Sam Kerr in the running for Best FIFA Women’s Player award