A THREE day immersion into the local indigenous culture will benefit the staff and students from two Taree schools as they head into the new school year.
One hundred and thirty staff members from Taree High and Taree Public attended the Connect to Country program, run by the Manning Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, at the end of last year.
It is the first time Connect to Country, part of the Connected Communities Strategy, has run at this scale (a smaller version took place about three years ago) and is designed to improve relations between the schools and the indigenous community, as well as educational outcomes for Aboriginal students.
The participants, which included office staff, ancillary staff, cleaners and executive as well as teachers, spent a day on Biripi Country at Saltwater, a day at the Purfleet Aboriginal Land Council and another at the Uniting Church in Taree.
"All staff have been involved and developed an understanding of the culture, customs and traditions of the Biripi people," said Taree High principal Allison Alliston.
"It gives us insight into where the kids are coming from and how to support the kids and their families."
Activities included a guided tour of Saltwater's traditional and sacred grounds by Uncle Russell Saunders, participating in indigenous activities including boomerang throwing, spear throwing, basket weaving, rope making, enjoying traditional dances, listening to yarns by local Aboriginal elders who told their personal stories about growing up in the community, walkabouts at Purfleet, learning about the area's history and why certain facilities are there, as well as learning about the Biripi language and customs.
A session on the eight ways of pedagogy helped them learn different ways to approach teaching Aboriginal students so it is significant to them and something they can relate to.
They also had some fun with local Andrew Saunders, who ran a session called 'So You Think You Can Flash? where participants were asked about their knowledge on what they had learned.
The program was also a chance to meet with representatives from different agencies and local people, with the aim of developing a connection.
"My staff have been loving it. They are so positive and so keen."
Allison said she and the new principal at Taree Public School, Karen Clark, would be working closely to look at the teaching approach of children from kindergarten up to when they leave school, as well as ways of engaging parents of indigenous students.
Benn Saunders, vice president of the AECG and the AEO (Aboriginal Education Officer) at Taree High said the program had been "awesome" and a real "hands on approach of people experiencing this country through an Aboriginal perspective".
Taree High teacher Toni Fatherley felt the day was beneficial for both the school and the community and provided a chance to build a real bond.
One of the biggest impacts on her was seeing the immense pride the indigenous community had in the recovery of their traditional language.
She also enjoyed listening to Uncle Russell Saunders during his tour of Saltwater and the Aboriginal elders talk about their lives.
"They are really personal stories and it was lovely to see them be so open and able to fully share that."