Visible improvements from extra funds

Bwgcolman Community School

At remote Bwgcolman Community School, on north Queensland’s Palm Island, students are making huge strides in literacy, thanks to a targeted program as well as extra funding and resources.

Visible improvements in the reading abilities of the youngest students are proof that their strategy, paid for by extra funding, is absolutely on the right track, says school principal Beresford Domic.

All 280 students at this Prep to Year 12 school are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and, for the majority, English is a second or third language.

In 2016, the school introduced a new Read to Learn program to Prep children. Within one year, 75 per cent of the students were at or above the national benchmark for reading at their year level.

“We’ve been able to train and employ extra teacher aides so we’ve got five or six people in the room, and each of those people takes a group of kids,” says Beresford.

“Having that density of adults in the classroom means you can work with students individually and get them reading.

“I can walk into a classroom and see kids engaged every day.”

The program also engages the community. Locals trained as teacher aides learn transferable skills and gain confidence in themselves and the students they support.

“I have seen a real increase in the enthusiasm of the nonteaching staff,” says Beresford. “They are part of a team that’s achieving good things for their kids in their community. They feel empowered.”

Extra funding means the school’s guidance officer comes to school three days a week, rather than one day only, supporting students who are experiencing what Beresford calls the “now” and “historical” traumas created by things such as poor housing, unemployment, poor health and nutrition, lack of access to quality educational services, institutionalised racism and low expectations, domestic violence, substance abuse, inadequate models of service delivery, dispossession and dispersal, stolen wages and Stolen Generations.

“This continues to have a huge impact on this community,” he says.

The school has employed more community education counsellors to provide ”wrap-around support for families” to strengthen school attendance and engagement.

From his 17 years teaching in Indigenous schools, Beresford has seen the transformative power of high expectations for students, community engagement and proper resourcing.

“We’ve still got a lot of challenges, but I can tell you that the extra funding that we got at Woorabinda school, for example, which was all Gonski money, gave us the opportunity to employ more staff, more teacher aides, and have the resources to provide a world-class education to the children of the community.

Every child deserves the very best chance, says Beresford. “I know they can do it.”