Almost 400 people attended the Indigikool pre-school fete organised by young Glen Innes teacher Leonie Pettit — a result that amazed not only participating schools but also the local Aboriginal Education Officer who said she had never previously seen some of the Indigenous families who turned up on the day.
“I was absolutely blown away by the positive comments from the whole community,” said Leonie.
Three years of teaching at Glen Innes PS convinced her it was essential to reach out to families of Aboriginal schoolchildren.
“It’s not unusual not to see a child’s parents in a whole year,” she said.
About 20 per cent of her class identifies as Aboriginal and that population is growing.
“We notice a lot more students starting school who just aren’t ready for it,” Leonie said. “One of the problems is the parents’ lack of knowledge of what’s there to help them.”
Leonie and a team of teachers and principals conceived the idea of bringing parents of pre-school children together with town and school resources at an event that would also celebrate Aboriginal culture.
“I could not believe how little people knew about Indigenous ways and culture, even children from that community,” she said. “I put in a bush tucker garden at school and when kids started asking questions I realised they knew so little. I felt if they could be proud of their heritage and culture it would mean so much for all the kids.”
In term 2, Leonie, 25, a temporary third-year teacher, applied for and succeeded in receiving a $15,000 Educational Services Initiatives grant from the Department’s Aboriginal Education and Engagement arm.
She had two months to get her project up and running and quickly got together with teachers from Glen Innes PS, Red Range PS, Glen Innes West Infants School, Emmaville CS and Wytaliba PS to organise what would come to be known as Indigikool — a first for Glen Innes.
It wasn’t easy, not least because Leonie had to justify the project with a string of principals at her school, the lead partner in the project. “In term 3, we had two relieving principals and there had been a different one in term 2,” Leonie said.
Indigikool centred on an ice-breaking day for children entering the local schools next year, with games, dancing and activities, with kindergarten children there to help things along. Everything was free, including a barbie and bush tucker.
“A lot of Aboriginal families who came hadn’t ever attended Glen Innes community events,” Leonie said. “A lot were surprised at how much fun it was.
Schools set up booths to talk to parents about their children’s move to kindergarten. It was a good way to let parents know that the schools’ doors are always open to them, Leonie said.
“We had stalls by the town library and the toy library to encourage children to start reading and playing and learning to communicate. “Children had fun throwing boomerangs (one little boy gave himself a bit of an egg on his head when he accidentally hit himself!), learned to play the didgeridoo and ended the day with the emu and kangaroo dance.” The fire service brought a truck along for a close-up look and National Parks put on a display.
Family and Youth Support caseworkers signed up several families and said the day had “definitely broken down barriers”.
The schools also put together backpacks for each child entering school with goodies such as colouring books, Dreamtime storybooks, alphabet placemats and markers for the children to practise writing their names. They have been handed out at kindergarten transition.
“I was really proud of what we were able to achieve,” Leonie said. “Some people were doubtful that Indigikool was going to achieve a positive outcome.
“It was great seeing kids take that backpacks and chattering about what was in there and what they could do with it. Just the smiles on their faces! It might not have made a massive difference but any difference is welcome.”