Traditional learning styles and connections to culture are being forged in one regional South Australian classroom, giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the Riverland a chance to walk in two worlds, under the guidance of local elders.

Key points:

  • A regional high school is bringing traditional Aboriginal learning styles into a classroom setting
  • One of the program leaders says it’s increasing student engagement
  • Year 12 participant Andrew Giles says it’s allowing him to connect back to culture

Renmark High School’s Strong Futures program is also open to non-Aboriginal students and covers a different topic each week that complements the school curriculum and invites local Aboriginal people to tell their stories of success.

Aboriginal secondary education transition officer Daniel Giles was behind the tailored program, which involves teaching one double lesson a week alongside local elder Uncle Barney Lindsay, and said it grows strong future pathways for the local youth.

“It covers a range of things, from English to maths to HASS [humanities and social sciences], getting the students to produce a variety of work in each lesson,” he said.

“This year we’ve had a significant increase in participants.

“It has definitely increased engagement and attendance with a lot of our students.”

Student confidence climbs

Around 10 per cent of Renmark High School’s approximately 500 students identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and were behind the push to create a class where traditional knowledge and learning is valued.

Art as expression identity is encouraged, which Andrew Lindsay says has helped to build his confidence.(ABC Riverland: Anita Ward)

For year 12 student Andrew Lindsay, having participated in the Strong Futures program last year and taking it on again this year, has pushed him to aim for an apprenticeship in the construction industry once his schooling is complete.

“It has been good, Daniel has helped me to get my points up for SACE and my confidence in talking to people has been boosted,” he said.

“Doing this [program] here … it’s pointing them in the right direction.”

Deputy principal and director of inclusion Amy Evans said the program is a point of pride for the school as it creates real outcomes for participating students.

All students are welcome in the Strong Futures program, which passes on cultural knowledge and traditional Aboriginal learning styles.(ABC Riverland: Anita Ward)

“With our older students, we’ve been able to offer some SACE accreditation in the program in Aboriginal studies and in integrated learning,” she said.

Mr Giles said at the heart of each lesson was the desire to keep community connections strong and pass on ancient knowledge.

“Tuesday bus runs are usually pretty full when we have the Strong Futures program, so it’s great to see.”

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