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3 May 2016

Spotlight On – St Brendan’s Catholic Primary School, Annandale

Nestled in the vibrant and leafy streets of Annandale in Sydney’s Inner West, St Brendan’s Catholic Primary School is a small school of 230 students. The school’s values of truth, belonging, success and relationships have guided their vision for reconciliation as a dedicated group of parents, teachers and community members worked together to develop the school’s first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). The RAP was launched with an energetic celebration on 6 April 2016, 12 months after the first RAP working group meeting.

The initial drive to develop a RAP for St Brendan’s came from a parent, Francisca Peña, whose two children attend the school. “I had worked in organisations that had RAPs and I also personally acknowledged that I lived in this amazing place and I didn’t know enough about the history. I thought if this knowledge gap exists for adults in this country, what is happening with our children?” Francisca reflected. It was this reflection that moved her to reach out to Narragunnawali and find out about RAPs for schools.

Armed with more information on how Narragunnawali can guide schools through the RAP development and implementation process, Francisca approached school executive to encourage St Brendan’s to develop a RAP. The idea was wholly supported by the school Principal, Louise Maguire, and a working group consisting of Louise, two teachers, Francisca and another parent, Fiona McGrath, was quickly formed.

For the newly formed working group, ensuring the RAP included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices was imperative. “Being a school with no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students, our challenge was to find an Indigenous representative   for the working group, so we reached out to our local council [Leichhardt] and the Community Development Officer, Aboriginal Programs, Deborah Lennis, was more than happy to guide us and join the group” said Louise.

Momentum built very quickly from this point, and 12 months on from beginning the process, the changes in the classroom and around the school are substantial. Staff and students are inspired by what they have learnt so far and conversations about reconciliation can be regularly heard in hallways. Year 2 teacher, Donna Quilty, worked with her colleagues to reflect on how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures were being taught and compile a list of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resources for staff. Donna, originally from Ireland, said there was a huge appetite from all teachers for classroom appropriate resources. “I didn’t have a lot of background at all, so it was huge for me—but even the teachers from Australia really wanted to know a lot more,” Donna said.

As a celebration of the work that has been done to this point, and to take stock of the work still to do, St Brendan’s held a special event to launch their RAP in April. Attendees were welcomed to Gadigal Country by Uncle Raymond Davison before being addressed by prominent Wiradjuri man and  journalist Stan Grant and Mayor Darcy Byrne of Leichhardt Municipal Council. The event included performances by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from surrounding catholic schools and the St Brendan’s choir, a smoking ceremony conducted by Uncle Max Eulo and a flag raising ceremony. The success of the St Brendan’s RAP launch demonstrated the community’s commitment to reconciliation, understanding that building relationships takes time and the respect held for Australia’s First Peoples.