This is certainly the case for Bald Hills State School’s Turrwan Circle, a parent and community engagement group which is taking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education to a new level.

The Queensland school was recognised as ‘highly commended’ in the 2018 Reconciliation Awards,  however they are no strangers to the awards, this being their third time as finalists.

“The Turrwan Circle was formed in 2013 ... to facilitate an understanding of the culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our school, to facilitate reconciliation and to empower our own students at the school,” Sharyn Kersnovske, a teacher at the school, explains.

“Our motto is ‘excellence and empowerment’. Turrwan Circle is actually a traditional name from the Turrbal language, and it means ‘capable of great things’.” 

A core part of the group’s vision involves supporting the students and their families to form a strong collective identity, to create a genuine sense of ownership and belonging in the circle.

Families are also included in the process of determining the desired educational outcomes of the children.

“Our role is to make sure our families are included so, for example, they know the benchmarks the children need to be on, so they can make sure that they’re achieving at the standard set for us by Education Queensland,” fellow teacher Casandra Boyd, says.

“And I think I’ve found that by fostering our relationships with our families, it’s empowering the kids with their own education,” Kersnovske adds.

The relationships and trust built with families through the Circle, pave the way for effective intervention when it is needed.

“...when parents come to pick up the kids, we’re able to chat with the parents to see how things are going, if we can help out in any way, academically or even socially,” Kersnovske says.

“We’ve actually done home visits to families where there has been a need, where attendance might be low, or there could be other social issues, so we’ve been able to support families that way.

“And I think, because we have this great contact, we have afternoon teas with them, we’ve had BBQ evenings, they feel comfortable coming to us for assistance.”    

Bald Hills has almost 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled, amongst the school population of around 630.

According to their teachers, these Indigenous students have come a long way in recent years.

“I think when Mrs K and I came here, we only had one of our [Indigenous] students in the upper two bands [of NAPLAN] and that was 2013,” Boyd says.

However now, she says the majority of Indigenous students find themsleves in the upper two bands, and the school sits above state and national averages in relation to this measure.

Attendance has also improved, to a point where 95 per cent of Indigenous students are in class when they need to be.

“Last year we had an Indigenous vice captain and this year our school captain is Indigenous,”Jinty Bird, another teacher at the school adds proudly.

“That’s a big thing. Six years ago there wouldn’t have been anyone in the leadership group. But now we’ve actually got three of our kids...” Kersnovske says.

“So we’ve empowered our young students to take the lead,” Boyd says.