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21 Mar 2019

Spotlight On – Middle Park Primary School, Victoria

The Narragunnawali Awards 2017 were an opportunity for Middle Park Primary School to be recognised for their outstanding achievement and commitment towards reconciliation in education. We spoke with Anne Spackman, Reconciliation Team Leader at Middle Park Primary, to find out about her school’s experience as a Finalist of the Awards and what’s been happening in her school since. According to Anne “the Narragunnawali Awards were a chance to celebrate, and for students to celebrate their successes.”

Middle Park’s Vision for Reconciliation, as articulated in their Narragunnawali Reconciliation Action Plan, focusses on understanding, respect, and unity, through strong connections with the local Boonwurrung community. Relationships are key to any reconciliation activity and this is especially true for schools as they themselves, are seen to be strong community hubs. Anne speaks proudly of her school’s relationships with local Boonwurrung community members. “We’ve had a strong relationship with Aunty Carolyn Briggs for many years now and we work with her on a range of reconciliation activities around the school and in classrooms.” Aunty Carolyn attended the Narragunnawali Awards 2017 workshop and ceremony at the University of Canberra alongside Anne’s team to celebrate their reconciliation successes. Reflecting on the Awards, Anne said “spending time together at the Awards workshops and the event really strengthened our relationship”. This led to Aunty Carolyn’s grandson, Marbee joining the school community to teach Boonwurrung culture and history in classrooms.

Through the relationships that Middle Park Primary School have developed and strengthened with Aunty Carolyn and her grandson Marbee, the school has been able to continue to learn Boonwurrung language. This initiative was sparked by interest from students and has grown and developed in a range of ways since the Awards.

“The students and teachers have worked with Aunty Carolyn to rename school rooms, now all school signs are bilingual, in Boonwurrung and English.” Students and teachers continue to learn Boonwurrung language each week at assembly, where a ‘word a week’ is presented. Students are proud to share this learning and “take it on as part of their life.” Anne commented on how “children see two cultures - one community.”

Because of their pride in and connection to Boonwurrung culture and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures more widely, being a part of the Awards was a very exciting time for Middle Park Primary School students.

“The kids followed the journey from the nomination stage to the end of the process with excitement.” The highlight of being a part of the Awards for students was the opportunity to “celebrate their successes.” Chief Executive Officer of Reconciliation Australia, Karen Mundine notes that that is exactly what the Awards are all about: “Celebrate your successes, challenges and share your reconciliation stories; this is what these awards aim to do.”

The Narragunnawali Awards also had a big impact on staff at the school. The most notable was the trip to Canberra to attend the Awards workshops and ceremony. The workshop was attended by all nominees and was an opportunity for schools and early learning services to share their experiences. “The day at the workshops before the Awards ceremony was a great way to spend time with other schools and share and learn from each other.” Of the Awards Ceremony itself, Anne said: “We got so much out of being there and listening to the speakers, just soaking it all in.”

Middle Park Primary School have an admirable commitment to reconciliation in education. Since the excitement of the Awards, they have continued to strengthen relationships as well as improve Boonwurrung language learning practices. The school has also designed, created and formally launched a reconciliation garden, hosted a smoking ceremony and engaged in many other reconciliation activities. Anne’s key reconciliation message to educators is:

“It’s about teaching students the true history of Australia. It’s important to make the learning real for students by making it local. As students learn about the true history, they can make informed decisions and judgements.”

Narragunnawali congratulates Anne, Carolyn and Middle Park Primary School and community again on the fantastic work they do towards reconciliation in education.

If you know or are part of a school or early learning service who is also doing great things towards reconciliation in education, nominate them for the Narragunnawali Awards 2019.