Moorditj Noongar Community College, the first Aboriginal College in Perth, is showing 90 students, Kindergarten to Year 6, how to overcome complex social and educational challenges.

Its efforts, beliefs and partnerships, as a leading specialist Aboriginal College, made it a finalist in the coveted PALS Reconciliation Awards in 2015, for improving student engagement under its former principal, David Ball.

Roma Winmar, the 72 year-old active Aboriginal Indigenous Education Officer and College Noongar LOTE teacher, is a living symbol of Indigenous resilience over discrimination. Winmar’s mother lobbied for her children to attend school.

“My mother taught us that we needed to compete in the community and education was the way to do it,” Winmar says.

 Her brother, ‘Ted’ Penny, was appointed in 2001, by the then WA Education Minister, Colin Barnett, as the College’s first principal.

He was the second ever Aboriginal to gain a teaching qualification with his sister, Roma, as cultural advisor.

Winmar engages children as an expert in a dialect of Noongar LOTE to use the ‘Language Nest’ approach, where she guides students, teachers and parents to use song and activities that embed key Noongar vocabulary and phrases in a fun environment.

Her love of language has led her to work with a community group for the Regeneration of Language Project. Peter Freeman, Moorditj’s principal, says that the college design is symbolic of Aboriginal culture, depicting a meeting place for the community with open spaces sur rounded by native bushland.

“The most important part of our staff induction is for teachers to develop relationships with students and the children become very protective of teachers as a result,” Freeman says.

The Australian Government’s ‘Closing the Gap’ program and research by Partington, Gray and Byrne, show that Indigenous students’ school completion rates are well below non-Indigenous students.

Factors contributing to this national issue are a mix of complex socio-cultural, economic and religious tensions between the demands of home, racism, Aboriginal beliefs and school.

“We have a bus service that operates door-to-door and we offer reward systems with excursions for students or cooking activities linked to occasions such as Anzac Day,” Freeman says.

 Supported by case conferences and home visits done by Winmar, attendance in 2016 increased by 8 per cent in a term and is above similar schools with the college building a cohesive staff and positive climate, recognised, through research, as important factors.

Ash-Leigh Evans, the college’s Foundation teacher since 2001, described how staff worked with the North East Metropolitan Region’s Learning Development Centre to provide strategies that improved literacy and reading.

The college has a partnership with Curtin University which enables fourth-year speech pathologists to work with teachers and students to implement a program by the Learning Development Centre to improve phonological awareness.

 Freeman acts on the belief that the Aboriginal strategy of ‘twoway learning’ is important as he has a joint project with Helena College in Glen Forrest, Western Australia, to write a children’s book.

It will be written in English and Noongar, providing opportunities for primary and secondary students to learn from each other. Moorditj’s committed network of volunteers helps every child to have a bright tomorrow.