Closing the gap, one inspired student at a time

Closing the gap, one inspired student at a time

In March, the NSW Department of Education presented its 11th Annual Public Schools Nanga Mai Awards in Sydney. Nanga Mai is an Eora (Sydney) word, meaning ‘to dream’.

The Awards celebrate and recognise innovation, excellence and achievement in Indigenous education in NSW public schools and communities. 

This year, the Hunter staff nominee, Darren Woodhouse from Callaghan College, Waratah Technology Campus (WTC), was the proud recipient of a Nanga Mai Award for outstanding contribution to educational achievement by a non-Indigenous staff member.

Since 2006, he has initiated, led and supported Indigenous education programs at the school, making significant contributions to student achievements, culture and identity.

Woodhouse, who is currently employed as a community liaison officer at the campus, told The Educator that his connection to the land inspires the work he is doing across Indigenous education programs.

“As a person of mixed heritage and a proud 7th generation Australian, I have always been fascinated by traditional culture, stories and the way that traditional custodians are connected to their country,” he explained.

Woodhouse, who grew up with Indigenous people, said he has always been included and treated as “one of the mob”.

“During my schooling, there was little to no acknowledgment of Aboriginal people, their connections to country and celebration of culture, but I am proud to say that in my lifetime I have seen significant change and feel that my work is contributing to help close the gap,” he said.

“I believe that all Australians have benefitted from the care, nurturing and understanding of this country shown by its traditional custodians since The Dreaming.”

In light of the Federal Government’s education reforms, Woodhouse said he believes that Australia is working towards closing the gap in educational disadvantage, particularly with respect to Indigenous students.

“I have seen an increase in Aboriginal students attending school and being successful,” he said.

“NAPLAN results for our Aboriginal students here at Callaghan College Waratah Technology Campus have improved over a number of years, and have been better than the State averages.”

However, Woodhouse said that even though significant progress has been made, more work needs to be done to ensure that the gap is finally closed.

Working hard to ‘close the gap’

The most recent Closing the Gap report, released in February, showed little progress in reversing educational disadvantage among Indigenous students. However, major strides in educational outcomes are being seen in some schools, and Callaghan College WTC is no exception.

The school’s relieving principal, James Ostermann, told The Educator that when it comes to improving the educational outcomes of Indigenous students at his school, significant progress is being made through a range of programs and initiatives.

“Waratah Campus is a proud member of the Callaghan College collegiate, which has outstanding leadership, implementation and development of programs to support Aboriginal programs,” Ostermann explained.

“This achievement has been passionately initiated, led and supported by Darren Woodhouse, as well as numerous Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal support staff.”

Ostermann said the school has continuously delivered significant contributions to student achievements within the campus that include mentoring and resilience programs, quality facilities and professional learning that is embedded within the school’s Professional Learning Team.

Some of the challenges Ostermann sees facing Indigenous education in 2017 are improving reading, writing and numeracy levels, completion of the Year 12 HSC or equivalent, transition from education to employment pathways and building and sustaining quality partnerships.

However, he said the school continues to engage staff, students and community members in programs that will support these challenges and ultimately lead to positive outcomes for all of its students.

“As a community, we have a shared understanding of the importance in collaborating with each other,” Ostermann said.

“This is enhanced with the inclusion of staff, parents/carers, community members and students so that we can address the important value of education.”