Kellyville Public School: Walk with us on our journey - Education Matters Magazine
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Kellyville Public School: Walk with us on our journey

Education and learning have been happening on the site of Kellyville Public School for thousands of years with its First Nations families passing on knowledge about the land and culture, says Principal Jenny Walker.

Kellyville Public School on Darug Country was a finalist in the 2023 Narragunnawali Awards. Reconciliation Australia holds the awards program every two years to recognise outstanding commitment to reconciliation in education. A special feature at Kellyville Public School is the Coming Together Bridge, a symbol of reconciliation physically linking two points in the Guganagina Ngurang, the Place of Kookaburras.

Principal Jenny Walker. Image: Kellyville Public School

What is the history of the school?

Surrounded by farmland, Kellyville Public School was formally established in 1873 with 39 students enrolled. The prolific birdlife present in the local area prompted the choice of a kookaburra for the school logo. ‘Play the Game’ was later adopted as the school motto.

Today the school is surrounded by housing development and has more than 865 students enrolled with more than 65% coming from a non-English speaking background. Some families are new to Kellyville – and Australia, others have been settled here for two, three or four generations, but one thing we have in common is that many of us work, live and are being educated on Darug Country, this ancient land. That is what unites us all together.

Aboriginal students over the years were not part of the enrolment at Kellyville Public School due to government laws. During last century the children from Marella Mission, which was sited at the nearby Bernie Mullane sports oval, were not allowed to attend Kellyville Public School and had to travel to Castle Hill Public School. They were not educated and were told to ‘look out the window’. They were not allowed to speak their language and were treated unfairly and with no respect.

How do you provide support and leadership to your staff?

Over the time I have been principal of Kellyville Public School I have built teams across the school, developing leadership within these teams. The Aboriginal Education team is one such team. 

At the start of each year, an Acknowledgement of Country is presented to the staff. It is a time of reflection and learning and challenges all staff (teaching and non-teaching) at the school.  

Through Professional Development each year, and encouragement to further their knowledge over many years, there is a desire to unlearn and relearn the truth of our history locally and nationally. This desire has flamed a willingness to find the true history of our land, not only to teach it but to acknowledge this in the wider community.

What role do you play in the day-to-day activities of your students?

As Principal of Kellyville Public School my role is to facilitate the opportunities for learning to be real and truthful. Staff at Kellyville have a pivotal role in the education of all students to bring the truth to them. They have high expectations for all children to reach their potential. This is achieved through student growth and attainment, teacher practice and collaboration, and community connections and wellbeing.

What traits make for an effective and successful leader in education today?

The role of the principal is one of service, leadership and reward. Listen with an open mind, know your staff and have high expectations of them, know your students and their dreams. As a principal you must learn with your school to share the ‘vision and journey’ of the school.

Darug Elder Aunty Rita Wright, a member of the Stolen Generation, participating in a smoking ceremony at Kellyville Public School. Image: Kellyville Public School

What has been your most memorable moment either as a teacher or specifically in the role of principal?

During the past 12 months Kellyville has celebrated its 150th anniversary, and was one of only three Australian schools (only school from NSW and only public school) to be selected as finalists in the 2023 Narragunnawali Awards.

But these are events only. It is the learning and hard work that has been conducted beforehand – sometimes more than 10 years in the making – of which I am proud. To see the growth in all staff and students, for staff to have high expectations and students to gain the skills to reach their potential are the highlights. 

At Kellyville Public School, we empower students to acquire, demonstrate, articulate, and value knowledge and skills that will support them as lifelong, self-directed learners enabling them to participate in and contribute to the global world.

High expectations are set to meet individual student needs whilst providing high quality learning experiences that enable students to excel, connect, succeed and thrive.

What does Reconciliation mean to you?

Reconciliation is more than a word; it is about people from many generations, it is about my family, it is about action. It is not history that is in the past that we read about or see in the museum – it is an ongoing journey and it is a privilege to be involved. 

There was no reconciliation movement with previous generations. In my, and my children’s, generations we are part of the journey. It is a journey we all need to be part of – but not everyone is on the journey yet.

Reconciliation is about people and trust, respect, recognition, values. Reconciliation comes from the heart. It is about a truthful knowledge, justice, acceptance, equality, equity, integrity, unity and healing. Without a truthful understanding of our history, our work together cannot progress for all of us to have true reconciliation.

What is a RAP and why is it important for schools to take part in one?

A RAP is a Reconciliation Action Plan. It is a practical plan to develop reconciliation between our First Australians and the wider community. It is essential schools create a RAP to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives are authentically taught. A RAP creates opportunities for staff, students, and the wider community to understand and participate in reconciliation. Education is an ongoing journey and so is the process of reconciliation.

What does Kellyville Public School do as part of its RAP? 

Kellyville Public School builds positive relationships with our First Australians. We are committed to providing opportunities for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. These students are given the opportunity to be part of our Custodians of the Place of Kookaburras project which allows them to share their knowledge with the wider school community.

Year 3 and 4 students designed the Place of Kookaburras garden featuring native plant species and a dry creek bed. Image: Kellyville Public School

What feedback do you get from the students? 

The feedback has always been positive and the students have a great sense of pride as this special place (the Place of Kookaburras) was designed, built and is maintained by them. The students like learning outdoors on Country and sharing knowledge orally. They have learnt how our First Nations people were our first scientists, bakers, and astronomers to name a few. They also understand the importance of Country and caring for Country. Our First Nations students have developed a deeper understanding of their culture and are proud to share their knowledge and stories.

How do students react when they find out their nearby sports oval used to be an Aboriginal mission?

The students are shocked and often confused as they have difficulty understanding why these children were taken from their families and treated so badly. We have found that their parents and the wider community are horrified that the Marella Mission was at the nearby Bernie Mullane sports oval and only closed in 1986. They have asked, “Why am I only hearing about it now?”.

Why is history important for them to know?

It is essential true history is taught to all students and shared with the wider community. We need to be aware of the wrongs of the past so we can prevent them from happening again. Understanding history allows us to understand intergenerational trauma and current-day issues with empathy. Today, our First Nations people are to always be treated with respect and have the same opportunities as all Australians.

Can you tell me about the pictorial timeline Kellyville has created?

The Kellyville timeline was created to provide the community with a comprehensive understanding of Kellyville’s history. The timeline is a valuable teaching tool – it allows teachers to conduct lessons outdoors, the students can learn about history and then make connections within the school.

The timeline plays a significant role in our RAP as it shows the true history of the Darug people spanning the last 65,000 years. It highlights the importance of Country, culture, and the profound impacts of colonisation.

Key historical events, such as the Marella Mission and the stolen generation, are acknowledged as part of our history. The timeline is in a prominent position in the school and is visible to all visitors.

A timeline was created to provide the community with a comprehensive understanding of Kellyville’s history. Image: Kellyville Public School

Can you tell me about the Coming Together Bridge? 

In 2013, as part of a project involving Year 3 and 4 students designing the Place of Kookaburras, the idea of adding a creek was discussed. Recognising safety concerns related to having an actual body of water, it was decided to create a dry creek bed. Through inquiry-based learning we knew that grinding grooves were traditionally situated near water sources, so it was appropriate to have a dry creek bed.

Adjacent to this area was the Akuna Garden, named after the Aboriginal word for moving forward. This garden incorporated introduced plant species. In contrast, the Place of Kookaburras focused on native plant species. To symbolise the connection between the two gardens, the idea of constructing a bridge was proposed.

Selected students took on the task of building the bridge. When Aunty Edna Watson (Darug language custodian) visited to check on our progress, she named the bridge the ‘Coming Together Bridge’ (Garribirri Ngyrlangai). This bridge, linking the Akuna Garden and the Place of Kookaburras, has since evolved into a powerful symbol of reconciliation, representing the merging of past and present. It holds a significant place in our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) artwork.

What is next for Kellyville in terms of Indigenous education and reconciliation?

Our journey is not ended and at Kellyville Public school we are part of strengthening the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-indigenous Australians. 

We invite you to continue to walk the journey of reconciliation for the country where there will be a future of reconciliation of mutual respect, mutual resolve mutual responsibility and better future for all. EM

*Produced with assistance from Kellyville Public School staff member Jenny Heffernan.

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