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Teaching Kids To ‘Code-Switch’ In Remote Pilbara Communities

Keeping the attention of fidgety school children is hard at the best of times and Kate McKenzie’s voice strains to be heard over screeching kids and corellas.

Rural Reporter: Strelley school switched on to success

Hear from students and teachers at Strelley School

The principal of Strelley Community School is trying to corral about 60 children from the playground of their Warralong campus into a classroom for their end of term assembly.

Parents push prams across the red dirt and the kids suck on orange slices, as they jostle towards the classroom.

Many are soon waving pieces of brightly laminated paper; certificates for “excellent attendance” and “always listening”.

Warralong lies 50 kilometres north of the West Australian town of Marble Bar, nestled between the Coongan, Shaw, and De Grey Rivers in the East Pilbara.

It is a dry community without many services, which means food and supplies need to be regularly sourced from Port Hedland, 160 kilometres to the north-west.

Strelley was the first independent Aboriginal Community School to be established in Western Australia in 1976.

“The original mission and vision for the school was to educate the kids in the community, not to send them away,” Ms McKenzie said.

“That means the school belongs to the community and every person that lives in the community is on the school committee.

“We’re always having conversations; what do they want at their school, what do they not want at their school?

“We put an emphasis on literacy and numeracy and we’re trying to instil a philosophy of ‘let’s give it a go’.

“But really they want the kids to learn ‘whitefella ways’, so they can code switch [between cultures] when they’re in a world that has more white influence, which is most of the time.”

Originally established as a bilingual school, language still plays an important role in Strelley students’ education.

“For most of these kids, it’s not English as a second language, it’s English as a third or fourth language that they’re learning,” Ms McKenzie said.

“Whitefellas can’t teach their language, they are very clear about that.

“They like us to help integrate the language, but the responsibility for teaching the language is theirs, and we respect that.

“The community educate us about the culture and we do a lot of the culturally appropriate things in the school and if we don’t, people let us know.

“For example, there are avoidance relationships; we might be having a school meeting and I want all the kids in one place, but they can’t be.

“They’ll just shake their heads and say to me ‘that one can’t be here, that one can’t be here’.”

Clarrie Robinson is one of several community elders involved in teaching at Strelley.

He recently led 18 senior students on a “Warralong Walkabout” trek.

Over three days they learned about identifying bush tucker and hunting on country.

“Education is really key, but so is not leaving your culture, you need to learn both ways,” he said.

“It’s a strong community and a strong school, we need it to stay strong.”

School central to saving community from closure

Earlier this term West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, visited Strelley School.

The WA Government has been discussing the future of services provided to some remote indigenous communities, following cuts to Federal Government funding.

Kate McKenzie said the Warralong community had been particularly concerned about the security of its future.

“We were very worried,” she said.

“The students wrote letters and we contacted political figures and then on the first Wednesday of term Colin Barnett came to visit.

“He came on a day when most of the kids were in town, recording songs in their own language, but we gave him a tour.

“He was extremely impressed with the school and he did say, as long as this community has a strong school and the kids are coming to school, they didn’t have to worry about closure.

“He actually said that.”

Ms McKenzie said the Premier also acknowledged the need for more housing in Warralong.

“One house here has 19 children and 11 adults,” she said.

“And this is with one toilet, one shower, and three bedrooms.

“They’re all out here because they want their kids to come to this school, but there’s not enough housing here to support that.”

This article originally appears at:
Article taken from the following publication:
ABC Rural
Article submitted by:
Lucie Bell

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