Out west, a tiny school of 16 students flourishes

Owen Hasler

The Indigenous garden at Pilliga Public School

It may be an isolated little school in the middle of nowhere, but the students at Pilliga Public School, most of them Aboriginal, have never been happier. Changes introduced in the past few years means they can now speak their own dialect at school, they have a footy field and new technology and better academic results as well.

The changes introduced by school principal and Fed Rep Michael Lord and his wife Nicole, who have taught there for four years, have also resulted in much better attendance rates and behavior, with enrolment more than doubling from when seven students were enrolled in 2014. “The changes have produced a much happier school environment where students turn up regularly and are prepared to learn and enjoy what the school can provide for them,” Michael Lord said.

The school, located 100km west of Narrabri in northwest NSW, is unique, with only 16 students in the village of Pilliga, which was formerly a service centre for the surrounding agricultural area. Concentrating on encouraging local Indigenous culture within the school to build a strong sense of pride and connection to local heritage was a priority, so the Gomeroi language was introduced into the syllabus.

“This has proven to be very successful, with students recognising the importance of their traditional language for continuing their proud traditions,” Michael said. The change followed consultation with students and their families.

Another recent project for the school has been setting up the new sporting ground. Much time, energy and expense has gone into establishing a football field, with a water supply system connected for watering the turf and land levelled and fenced off. Michael and the school general assistant have worked hard on the field for many months.

“One of the problems that we noted when we arrived was the lack of well-maintained sporting fields for the students to use in training and playing sports. So the establishment of the new sporting field has been another main objective of our school community,” Michael said.

A traditional Aboriginal garden has also been planted which features replica Aboriginal scar trees, totem pole and mosaics. “This has become a real feature at the front of the school and reinforces the students’ pride in their school and their culture,” he said.

Michael and Nicole say their four-year stay at Pilliga Public School has been both challenging and rewarding. With students from kindergarten to Year 6, the school is extremely well equipped, with two teaching areas, a Stephanie Alexander Kitchen and bountiful outdoor play areas.

With modern technology, smart screens and special learning stations which allow individual learning and personalised programs, the school has shown marked improvement in academic results, so that now students are achieving national targets.

“We are very proud of this achievement and are trying to ensure that this continues into their secondary schooling. We’re encouraging students to seek scholarships from schools in larger centres which will increase their world view and chance of employment post-school,” Michael said.

Owen Hasler is a Life Member

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