Story: Margate Primary School
What started out as a disused classroom on the grounds of Margate Primary School has quickly turned into one of Tasmania’s major ‘school excursion’ drawcards. It’s only been open for a few years, but last year some 1,300 school children from all over the island state visited Margate’s very own Aboriginal Education Centre.
“We’re really really busy!” exclaims coordinator Debbie Clifford. “Schools are ringing up all the time to book in for a visit.”
The Aboriginal Education Centre came from humble origins. When the school was having a new wing built, the local Aboriginal Student Support & Parent Awareness (ASSPA) committee asked if one of the old classrooms could be converted into a homework centre for their young ones. The request was granted and the centre opened its doors in 1994.
Aboriginal school kids from the Margate area took to the building almost immediately, using it not only as a homework and resource centre, but also as a place in which to meet and socialise. They helped to decorate their new home with artwork and displays about aspects of Aboriginal culture such as mutton-birding, basket weaving and traditional tools.
Before too long, the school and the ASSPA committee realised they had a burgeoning cultural and education centre on their hands. So they began inviting other schools in the region to come for a look-see.
The centre now welcomes school groups from all over the state. A number of guest speakers have visited the centre, including Literacy and Numeracy Ambassadors May O’Brien and Shane Blackman, dancer Dion Drummond and Elders from the local community. Artist Lisa Kennedy has also spent time there, teaching the kids how to unlock their creative potential.
Apart from hosting a weekly homework program, the centre is also the homeroom of the ASSPA committee who meet there regularly. And when NAIDOC Week or Reconciliation Week looms, the young ones have their own space in which to celebrate without having to rely on the availability of other rooms around the school.
Debbie Clifford believes the centre is invaluable not only as a resource, but as a source of pride for all Aboriginal young people in the area. “It’s given them a real sense of ownership and self identity. It’s made them feel like their history is just as important as anyone else’s.
“The centre provides a sense of community for the young people, because they can get together with other Aboriginal young people from this school and other schools and just be together as a group. I’ve seen relationships built thanks to the centre, because when they get to know each other they support each other.”
The weekly homework program, funded by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA), attracts Aboriginal young people from all over the region. It helps to instil good study habits as well as assisting in areas where students might be falling behind. The program is divided into age groups and the older ones are encouraged to keep coming along even after they’ve moved on to high school.
“The centre came about because of a strong partnership between the parents of Aboriginal children and the school itself, with both parties working hard alongside each other,” says Debbie. “This school is very supportive and it listens to what parents want. We fly the Australian flag and the Aboriginal flag every day at our school, side by side.”