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Creativity and Partnership at Yiramalay

Creativity and Partnership at Yiramalay

Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School is a living example of creativity in education and a proven school-community partnership model for closing the gap for all Australians, as Kaylene Marr explains. Creativity is at the centre of the partnership between the Bunuba and Wesley communities at the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School. Creativity is an important part of what country means to Aboriginal people. For Aboriginal people, country is about more than the land – it’s about connection. It’s our identity, it heals us and it gives us spiritual guidance. It’s where we dance, it’s where we sing. Country is where we teach, where we learn and where we belong.

To my people, our partnership with Wesley is about bringing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together. It’s about opening the door to new opportunities and opening people’s hearts and minds. Our partnership is both a relationship and an opportunity to work side by side, try new things, challenge ourselves, learn from each other and discover different talents. Our partnership enables communication and the growth of teachers, mentors and students.

Creativity in education

Yiramalay is a living example of creativity in education that is actually closing the gap for me and you. It’s a new model for schooling on-country where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people learn side by side – engaging in two-way learning. Creating a two-way learning model like this in the outback of Australia really depends on connecting with the local First Nation people of this land.

Many cultures and languages come with the history of this great land: from the desert side, the river side, the seas, ranges and forest side. Our ancestors teach us our own curriculum creatively through stories, cave art and other art forms, traditional dancing and song lines. Creativity is important to me as an Aboriginal woman, as a Yiramalay Traditional Owner, as a parent, as the Senior Cultural Mentor at Yiramalay and as a role model.

Through painting, dramatic performance and film, story-telling, dancing and singing we share our spirit of creativity. This is so important to all the cultures at Yiramalay, and to our program.

What lies at the heart of an effective school-community partnership?

Our approach at Yiramalay meets the five principles that underpin effective school-community partnerships.

  • Effective partnerships provide benefits to both partners and to others. Yiramalay emerged from real, respectful conversations between the Bunuba and Wesley communities that recognised what each could offer the other and how each could benefit. Taking the idea of ‘give and take’ to another level, the Yiramalay model is about one partner giving and the other giving as well.
  • The partners are committed to building trust with each other. Our Yiramalay partnership was forged on a strong foundation of trust and respect between members of the Bunuba and Wesley communities. We truly learn side by side only when we have respect for and trust in each other, and that’s true for everyone involved in the Yiramalay partnership.
  • The partners must have a clear understanding about the programs on which they are partnering, how they will collaborate to deliver them and who will do what. The Yiramalay partners have developed a robust teaching and learning program that addresses academic learning, personal learning and industry learning. It incorporates the Induction program, which brings together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students and teachers to engage in truly two-way learning, individualised learning programs within the Senior Years Learning Framework, including VCE offerings, for our Aboriginal students and wraparound support for students, both in the Kimberley and through our Learning in Residence boarding support at Wesley’s Glen Waverley Campus in Melbourne.
  • The partners must have a clear conception of the resources they will bring to the partnership. The Yiramalay program depends on robust resourcing agreements to ensure supporting infrastructure keeps pace with ongoing and anticipated needs. This depends on all partners working together to ensure the continuing financial support the partnership receives from both state and Commonwealth governments funding, along with donations and other forms of funding from philanthropic and other organisations and individuals. It also depends on careful planning to ensure that appropriate resources are in place, from the provision of a reliable fibre-optic internet service to school vehicles that are efficient and meet updated fleet regulatory standards.
  • The partners must have a clear conception of the lifespan of the partnership. The Yiramalay partners are committed to the further development of educational initiatives. While still in the very early stages, these include investigating the possibility of expanding the Yiramalay model to the middle years and establishing an in-house teaching and learning facility to build capability for cross-cultural teaching and learning for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal teachers. The Yiramalay partners have also supported the establishment of Studio Schools Australia, which aims to grow the scale and impact of the unique Yiramalay model across Australia.

The partnership between the Bunuba and Wesley communities is about opening the door to new opportunities and closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in all sorts of ways, not least through the excellent attendance rate and high numbers of graduations.

In 2018, nine students graduated from their programs within the Senior Years Learning Framework Standard Level, and one student from their program within SYLF Advanced Level, bringing the total number of graduates since the school’s inception to 44. Average attendance is at the top for a school in a remote community, at the 90th percentile. Closing the gap often seems like a dream, but Yiramalay is helping me and my people turn this dream into a reality, and together we are changing the lives of students, their families and friends, teachers, mentors and the community.

The Bunuba and Wesley partners who have created the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School are, like the long-lived boab tree, here for the long haul Kaylene Marr is a strong Bunuba woman from the Kimberley region of Western Australia and the Senior Cultural Mentor at the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School. 

This article draws on her presentation at the recent Global Connections conference hosted by Wesley College in March 2019, which addressed creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Read more about the partnership between the Bunuba and Wesley communities.