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WA Excellence in Aboriginal Education 2017

Bayulu Remote Community School

It’s February 1957. In a cave on the side of the Parmarrjarti Hills just south of Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley, 20 children are sitting at desks on the sand floor doing lessons. They are the children of the Gooniyandi people who have come off the river and the Walmajarri people who have come off the desert to live and work on Gogo Station. It’s the first day of school and this is the first station school in the State.

Five years later, a single classroom and teacher accommodation are built just 400 metres from the cave school.

Today, 100 students attend Bayulu Remote Community School.

“The community has a strong affinity with the school that goes back to the cave school days,” says principal Leon Wilson.

“We see that affinity at assemblies, NAIDOC Week events and sports carnivals where the generations prior – parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts – come in to reminisce, look at old photos and share stories with our students.

“We’re a unique school. With the generations that have come through here, there’s a really strong bond between the community and school. The school has always been viewed by the community as one that is effective.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Cissy Nugget, one of the school’s six Aboriginal and Islander education officers (AIEOs) who were all past students of the school.

“I came to the school in 1968 and now I’m back here teaching all the grandkids,” Cissy says.

“My oldest sister and other family members were at the cave school and that’s where education started. Our family was very proud of that, and we take school and education very seriously. We have pride in it.”

Unlike many remote community schools, Bayulu is not in the community. Each day, students catch a bus to school from six communities – Bayulu, Gillaroong, Karnparrmi, Joy Springs, Ngalingkadji and Mimbi.

It’s everyone coming together that makes the school such a close knit community.

“The word that describes the Gooniyandi and Walmajarri people as one mob is Parmarrjarti,” Leon explains.

“That’s the name of our school council, the Parmarrjarti School Council, because it’s saying that at this school we are all one mob. You put your purple shirt on and those divisions by language or community go out of the window once you’re here.”

Deputy principal Jane Salt, who has taught in the Kimberley for much of her career, describes Bayulu as a big family.

“The staff are given Aboriginal skin names so they feel a sense of belonging and we work cross-culturally to see learning outcomes improve,” she says.

That endeavour is embedded across the school.

“At our last planning session, we talked about having a focus on curriculum, effective teaching and early childhood education. We know that early intervention is the most effective way to ensure our kids can read, write and have a good grasp of numeracy,” Leon says.

“It’s also about consistency with relationships, instruction and curriculum delivery. For example, one teacher uses a particular language to describe a concept and another teacher the following year uses the same language. The data flows through as well because everyone is doing the same thing.

“This helps our kids enormously because nine out of 10 don’t speak standard Australian English at home.”

It’s this focus on strong relationships with students and the community as well as the tangible commitment to every student’s learning by all staff that makes this school stand out.

Jane says staff work closely with the six AIEOs and are leading the way in implementing the Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework.

“I always ask the AIEOs first about decisions that have an impact on the school,” she says.

“They play a key role in developing our school vision and plan; they’ll be here long after the current teachers have left.”

Perhaps Charlene Davis, who has worked at the school for 11 years as an AIEO, best sums up why the school is such a success.

“Everyone at the school is a leader and a role model,” she says. “We aren’t just AIEOs here, we all wear different hats. We are all grandmothers, aunties, mothers.

“A good day for me is seeing a lot of kids around, happy and playing together and in the classroom doing their best. I remember going into a staff meeting and Leon had the NAPLAN results that showed us how our kids had moved up. That melts my heart when I see our kids growing.

“We are proud of them and proud of the teachers we’ve got. They push our kids to be the best they can be and we want that to continue.”