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  What Works - The Work Program

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Healy State School Murrijunda, Mt Isa

A Murri go-between

Background | Working with the community


Background

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Healy State School in Mt Isa has an enrolment of 280 students, 63% of whom are Indigenous. The school is near the two Indigenous housing communities of Yallambie and Wulliberi and many students from these communities have come from outlying areas.

During 2001 the school added 'Murrijunda' to its name. 'Murrijunda' means 'Elderly Kalkadoon Lady' and was the bush name of the mother of a local Elder, who gave it to the school because she likes what they are doing for Murri children. The Elder, whose family have all left Mt Isa, wanted the name to stay in the area.


Working with the community

Principal Janelle Balderson believes in making the bargain with the community that 'if you get the kids here, we'll ensure they learn', and the school operates according to the following principles.

  • All students have the right to develop at school the knowledge, skills and attitudes to function successfully in life beyond school, to access further education and training and to secure rewarding and worthwhile employment.
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Joan Marshall (left), with Janelle Balderson

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have the same capacity to learn and to achieve high standards of education.
  • High expectations of learners are critical to achieving success. Therefore, teachers and principals should have the same expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students for high achievement as they do for the general student population.
  • School staff and parents, as well as other members of the community, have key roles to play in ensuring successful student outcomes. Partnerships between schools and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, based on mutual respect and recognition of mutual obligation, are essential for improving outcomes.

Healy also has several Aboriginal Education Workers. One of them is Joan Marshall, whose role is to be a link between the school and the Indigenous community, and to encourage consistent attendance.


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Joan can talk to Aboriginal parents in a way that's difficult for non-Indigenous teachers. She can also open doors in the two camp communities, which are difficult for non-Indigenous teachers to access. But she takes young teachers to the camps as well, and observes that this leads to positive changes in the way they teach Murri students. On the other hand, Joan also works to convince parents that the school's door is truly open to them.

Much of her work is with what she calls 'the middle group' of parents (neither the Elders, nor the youth), who have not been engaged with the school and are more likely to be affected by negative factors such as alcohol. Community Elders, however, are very supportive and the school has an Elders group which gathers regularly, meets with teachers and works with students.

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