Adventist school improves Indigenous learning outcomes

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Kempsey Adventist School (KAS) was one of four independent schools selected to participate in a unique pilot program aimed at improving literacy and numeracy outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students across NSW.

Commencing in 2016, the two-year program was designed by the Association of Independent Schools NSW (AISNSW) to encourage independent schools with a high percentage of Indigenous enrolments to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous learning outcomes.

KAS participated alongside Pymble Ladies’ College, St Ignatius’ College Riverview and St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill. Each school was asked to identify specific teaching and learning strategies to enhance the literacy, numeracy and academic achievements of their Indigenous students within the two-year period.

“As the only low SES school in the project, and the only one that chose a ‘whole school change’, the school has welcomed the opportunities created for our young people as a result of this project,” said KAS principal Leanne Lesic.

Students participated in project-based learning and engaged in focus group discussions.

Although the project initially focused on improving academic outcomes through teaching techniques, the focus soon shifted to building stronger relationships. KAS staff maintained regular communication with each student’s family and hosted focus groups to discuss how to overcome the most significant barriers experienced by Indigenous students. Teachers were proactive towards learning about Indigenous culture and traditions, favouring project-based learning over traditional teaching methods.

“Our success has heavily relied on a fantastic team of staff who have been willing to take a significant learning journey,” said Mrs Lesic.

KAS was required to document their strategies and process, and experienced impressive results. AISNSW chief executive Dr Geoff Newcombe was excited by the pilot’s success at increasing academic outcomes as well as the general wellbeing, happiness, and the sense of pride and belonging that Indigenous students felt towards their school.

“This is the best school I have ever been to. There are higher expectations than my previous school,” one student said.

“[The teachers] don’t dump expectations [on us] but guide us and help us achieve our best . . .” said another student.

Mrs Leanne Lesic (principal) and KAS staff intentionally built relationships with Indigenous students.

AISNSW is confident that the pilot’s positive outcomes will encourage other independent schools in NSW to implement the strategies developed by KAS and the other schools.

“KAS has been privileged to work with the AISNSW and UTS trial . . . our school has been enriched because of what we have learnt . . . we are grateful to the community for their willingness to partner with us to close the gap on achievement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,” Mrs Lesic said.

Although the pilot project has now finished, KAS hopes to continue building relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to help improve their school experience. To read the full report, “Improving Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students”, visit the AISNSW website.