Across Gorokan High School’s campus, located on the picturesque Central Coast of NSW, rich cultural connections between students and the wider community are flourishing, giving young people a stronger sense of belonging, camaraderie, and empowerment.
While many of these connections take place through the power of storytelling, Aboriginal Art, Dance and Didge, another program has put the school on the map as a shining example of what a successful First Nations education program should look like.
Launched in 2007 as an initiative to foster healthy lifestyles and personal development among Indigenous students, the weekly Ngura (place) Program has since gained international recognition and acclaim.
Upon completion of the program, students receive certificates in Level One Aboriginal History and Level One Sport and Recreation, as well as a Bronze Medallion. Beyond its immediate benefits to students, the program also involves their families and the wider Indigenous community, contributing to overall community wellbeing.
In 2009, Ngura was honoured by the United Nations in the Kinnie Chase Awards for Health and Education, leading to first nations communities across North America running a similar version of the program for their students. Then in 2017, on the program’s 10th anniversary, the school presented at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE) in Toronto, Ontario, where globally renowned Indigenous education experts, practitioners and scholars gathered to share successes and strategies for culturally grounded Indigenous education.
A rich culture of engagement and inclusion
Six years on, Gorokan High School’s other Aboriginal Education initiatives are going from strength to strength, with students eagerly throwing themselves into learning and the social connections that keep the school’s community both tightly knit and thriving.
When it comes to measuring the success of the programs beyond just students’ academic achievements, principal Matthew Boake says the school’s culture of engagement and inclusion which permeates throughout the school on a daily basis speaks volumes.
“For our students, it is the participation and the willingness to engage in the classroom learning activities, the cultural learning provided on Darkinjung Country and connection to our local Elders,” Boake told The Educator.
“As this program is for all students, it strengthens the voice and identity of our Aboriginal students with more students choosing a pattern of study to continue their connection.”
Boake said “cultural safety” for the school’s community to connect with staff and the school is another key indicator of success.
“It creates a connection to place and the support of our community in many spheres such as learning, identity and post school options, which establishes a pathway for our students beyond the school gates.”
Alumni inspiring students to succeed
Driving the success of these programs is the school’s Aboriginal Education Unit which, among other initiatives, facilitates the engagement of former students who have excelled in their fields to mentor current students in their educational journey.
“Our former students come back to connect themselves, to share with Aunty Lesley and Aunty June what they have achieved and reciprocate the support and investment they experienced as students. In turn, they share with our current students for whom the Community Room is the heart of the school, perpetuating the cycle,” Boake explained.
“We have former students as role models throughout GHS from the role of Aboriginal Education Officer to Student Learning Support Officer, connecting with our students daily.”
Boake said other graduates give back through their sharing of experiences to inspire and motivate, from local Cultural Leaders, through to NRL players and broadcasters.
One of these is Shahni Wellington, who graduated from the school in 2011 and went on to become a reporter for NITV, co-host of the SBS flagship news and current affairs show ‘The Point’, and co-host of the network’s breakfast TV show ‘Big Mob Brekky’.
The future is exciting
Boake says the school’s initiatives have only set the stage for further transformative learning experiences across the campus in the years ahead.
“Where we are as a community is already so far from where we started that the future is really exciting,” he said.
“Over half of our total student population [Years 7-9] have completed two years of timetabled Darkinjung cultural learning, co-designed and delivered with our local Aboriginal community, in classrooms and on Country.”
Boake said the school offers elective options for students to continue this learning into Year 9 and 10, as well as the Aboriginal Studies Preliminary and HSC course.
“This continuum of dedicated curriculum time from Years 7-12 was our initial aim. With the support of the NSW Aboriginal Education and Consultative Group, as well as the Aboriginal Outcomes and Partnerships Directorate, the program is expanding into Toukley and Gorokan Public Schools, strengthening our K-12 connections.”
Gorokan High School was recently named one of *10 Excellence Awardees for the CompliSpace Best First Nations Education Program ahead of the Australian Education Awards 2023. The winners of the Australian Education Awards 2023 will be announced on Friday 11 August at the Fullerton Hotel in Sydney.