This case study was originally prepared in 2001, principally by Julianne Willis who at the time was Vice-Principal, Curriculum, of Kormilda College. It was updated in 2003, when Julianne was Deputy Principal. As such it represents a snapshot of Kormilda College in those days, through her eyes.
This is a story about one Independent secondary college in Darwin. It is based on my experiences and perceptions over the past eight years. It is a story about the developing understandings and practices of a school in relation to Indigenous education within Australia today. I am not Indigenous and I do not claim to have any answers. This is a story of struggle and some achievements.
I will describe our school, our students and our staff as they were about 10 years ago. It is here that I will explore the problems and issues we faced in our struggle to develop an appropriate educational program for our Indigenous students. I will then describe some of the ways we worked from a whole school point of view to improve our programs. I am not sure we have found 'What Works' but I am confident we are heading in some very positive directions. We have moved from struggling to work out who we are to knowing who we are and what we are trying to achieve. We have consolidated many of our programs and further developed others. This is an excellent basis for considering fresh insights and I believe the College has new ground to explore. I am optimistic about the future.
Kormilda College is a low-fee independent Christian college situated in Darwin. We offer secondary education programs for students aged 13 to 18. An educational priority of the College is to support Indigenous students to access and then be successful in secondary education. Currently there are 800 student enrolments. Of these, 240 are Indigenous students who reside in the College residences during school terms.
The College is a traditional Australian Christian Independent secondary school and the dominant student group is Anglo-Australian. The dominant staff group is also Anglo-Australian and many come from places other than Darwin. Staffing is based on student enrolments, which are volatile. Therefore, staffing is sometimes not continuous and effective programs are not easily consolidated.
Our Indigenous students come from approximately 40 different communities across the Northern Territory. They represent approximately 11 distinct language groups. Many of our students have a strong Indigenous identity and speak more than one language as well as English. For many, English is a second language. They bring a wealth of multicultural experiences and knowledge to the College and some are willing to share these experiences with the wider community.
When I arrived at the College, we used a model for Indigenous education in which we implemented specialist programs and employed specialist staff with specialist knowledge.
Everyone employed in the College was committed and working very hard to achieve improved educational outcomes for our students. The College was in an incredible growth phase, trying to demonstrate credibility to the local Darwin community while at the same time maintaining its historical loyalty to our community parents. I think it would be true to say that our intentions had enormous integrity and that we were working very hard but that we were going in different directions. We did not have a shared understanding about who we were and what we were trying to achieve. I don't believe we fully understood who our students were. We did not have the range of skills or understandings necessary to effectively engage with the issues or develop the kinds of strategies necessary to move forward.
Many of our students would leave before making any real progress. Teachers had difficulty in engaging students in learning processes. We had difficulty in communicating with our parents. Much of the time spent in classrooms was devoted to counselling or crowd control. We were not alone in this regard.
Some general background factors:
We began by clarifying our goals. After considerable discussion, we agreed that Kormilda College would
We began to reaffirm structures or programs that were working for us. We also began to develop an awareness that what we needed was a whole school strategic approach built on the achievement of these goals, firstly and very importantly through establishing relevant policy.
Subsequently, a number of principles of operation were discussed, agreed and implemented.
Students are now grouped according to English literacy ability and their experience with Australian school education. There are three main programs. Generally,
All these programs are designed to maintain strong Indigenous identity while at the same time developing student understandings and skills in Australian secondary education programs. Students within the ESL programs become integrated into mainstream programs as they progress.
All educational programs at Kormilda College scaffold student learning towards the completion of accredited courses of study and work or further training. These courses include those available through Northern Territory Certificate of Education (which includes VET options) and the International Baccalaureate Diploma.
The VET programs include
We have conducted a variety of such programs for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. The most successful have been in areas not related to English literacy where students are working together on a project and over time develop understandings about each other. These include sporting groups, art classes and Outdoor Education Programs.
We offer Australian Indigenous Languages subjects at Years 11 and 12.
Students access a specialised tutoring and homework program four evenings a week to support effective learning in the day school program.
Before any child can be responsive to learning, basic needs need to be met. Feeling loved, safe and healthy is a basis for self respect, growth and being open to opportunities. If you have spent your life being abused, not eating healthy food, into drug abuse from an early age, solved problems through violence, have inappropriate models, have been raised with mixed and ambiguous values and no boundaries ... how can you focus on learning to read and write in English? Why would you?