Break’s over and it’s time for school in Arnhem Land

One of Australia's most remote Schoolies celebrates bucking the trend
Better life beckons as Year 12 girls graduate at Gunbalanya, NT
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“The river’s been up and down, so people can’t move out of the community,” Ms Trimble said.”We’re very bound by the weather here, so once you can’t get out there’s not many places to go.”

The town of Gunbalanya has a population of about 1200 people. (Supplied: Gunbalanya School)
Unique curriculum promotes communityAs well as its unusual co-principal model, in which Ms Djayhgurrnga provides a direct link to the community on the school grounds, the school is eager to emphasise continuity within its staff, adding just one new teacher to its stable for this year.The teachers were welcomed back with a smoking ceremony at the unusual return-to-work date of 3:00pm on Sunday.”And then yesterday staff worked together on preparation for the year,” Ms Trimble said.”We’re looking forward to lots of different things we’ll be trying this year.”

Co-principal Sue Trimble (right) anticipates strong attendance rates at the Gunbalanya School. The buses are out,” co-principal Sue Trimble told ABC Radio Darwin’s Richard Margetson down a phone line with music co-written by her students thrumming along in the background.”Music is playing, so there’s sort of a sense of excitement.”In 2012, consultation with the community of Gunbalanya — a billabong-girt town of about 1,200 people perched on the north-eastern edge of Kakadu National Park — led the school there to trial a more flexible calendar.”We could see that in the early part of the year most kids were at school, and around the second half of the year most kids were out of the community,” Ms Trimble said at the time.She and her co-principal Esther Djayhgurrnga mapped out fluctuations in school attendance according to significant Indigenous dates and worked backwards from there.This means students have six weeks off during the dry season to honour cultural commitments before returning to school, usually some time in August.Six years later, Ms Trimble is optimistic this flexibility has helped them reverse the Northern Territory’s notoriously poor rates of school attendance.”We’re expecting very good attendance today — everyone’s always very excited when the new year starts with a fresh beginning.”They eagerly come.” Stuck around and raring to goThe school’s end-of-year break spans just three typically very wet weeks at the beginning of the Top End’s monsoon season.Although the break is shorter, Ms Trimble said the lack of school holiday options made everyone keen to return. (Supplied: Gunbalanya School)
Teachers also travel to nearby homelands to deliver classes without removing students from their homes. Students can select two separate pathways through the education system.One offers work-ready qualifications such a driver’s licence and CERT qualifications, while the other leads to a Northern Territory Certificate of Education and Training. In the classrooms, the curriculum places emphasis on easy transitions to work and partnerships within community groups; the nearby meatworks and local ranger groups among them.”So through a partnership with the rangers, we have a teacher and we have two rangers working with children every day, learning on country and then coming back,” Ms Trimble said. Walking in two worlds The 13-year-old who left Gunbalanya to pursue his dreams of becoming a Kakadu ranger. The first school drop-off of 2018 in the Northern Territory — and possibly Australia — has taken place as busloads of children returned for day one in the community of Gunbalanya, also known as Oenpelli.”The canteen’s open cooking breakfast. “I think everyone’s very eager to get back to school and meet the new teachers and see what’s happening,” she said.”They’ve been stuck around community for three weeks and they’re raring to go.”The co-principals’ research found that most students would be in the community and therefore able to attend school during the wet season, when monsoon-induced flooding cuts off surrounding roads.Earlier this week, a police officer had to be rescued when his car was washed off a causeway 80 kilometres east of the Gunbalanya.
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What could make this boy leave everything he knows and move 3,800kms?
ABC Radio Darwin

By Jesse Thompson and Richard Margetson


January 09, 2018 16:22:10

The holidays are over for students at Gunbalanya School. (Supplied: Gunbalanya School)
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