• Ngukurr School is working hard to encourage students to attend classes and learn new things in interesting ways. (NITV News)
Gardening and barista work: Aboriginal kids in remote communities are improving their literacy and numeracy skills with unique entreprenurial projects.
By
Laura Morelli

14 Dec 2017 - 12:26 PM  UPDATED 14 Dec 2017 - 12:26 PM

The morning rush kicks off in Katherine, Northern Territory with the community getting read for the day ahead. Parents getting their kids ready for school, police preparing for the daily patrol and nurses aiding those in need.

While people in larger cities can easily grab a flat white on their way to work, for locals living in the nearby remote community of Ngukurr, a simple morning coffee can be hard to find.  

But luckily for the town, students of Ngukurr Community Education Centre are using their skills from the classroom and putting them back into the community, making "Melbourne-style coffees" for those needing a caffine hit. 

Not only helping others satisfy their cravings, but the initative helps students improve their numeracy, literacy and even make a spare dollar or two…

“The older students run an enterprise business and at the moment our students are running a coffee shop which happens to be the only one that exists in our town!," school principal Lynda Pascoe explained.

“Local police, nurses, parents and people from everywhere come to buy the ‘Melbourne-style coffees’ handmade by the students.”

And for those adverse to caffine, Ms Pascoe assures that the students can make a mean hot chocolate too.

Apart from a barista business, the students also manage several other enterprises including an op-shop where second-hand clothing can be sold and swapped and a carpentry class which sells handmade items. They’re also beginning to start a nursery for garden plants.

The National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) report released on Wednesday indicated Indigenous students and those from non-English speaking backgrounds are making the most progress across the country.

Although the Northern Territory remains the worst-performing jurisdiction in every educational metric and age group, amid low school attendance rates and high socio-economic disadvantage in the bush, this year the Territory’s remote Aboriginal students saw an increased achievement especially in reading, spelling and numeracy.

“There is still work to do, however we are heading in the right direction."  

Chief Executive of Department of Education, Vicki Baylis said the results are promising but there’s room for improvement.

“There is still work to do, however we are heading in the right direction with the Territory’s long term NAPLAN results showing overall improvement,” she said.

Despite the findings, Ms Pascoe says Ngukurr school, which has a 100 per cent Indigenous student population, has a proactive and holistic approach that’s seeing the students, teachers, families and locals all jump on board.

When it comes to grammar and punctuation the students may have low-level results but Ms Pascoe wants to remind others that unlike most other students, these children are learning up to nine languages - which not many other schools can boast about.

“Our students here have seven different traditional languages, as well as that there’s an overarching Aboriginal language called creole that all kids speak. On top of this they all learn English at school, so English is usually their ninth language,” Ms Pascoe said with pride.

“Our students are taught with an Aboriginal Assistant Teacher present in the room at all times to do translations, which is sometimes assisted by local language teachers.”

Over the years the school has worked tirelessly to provide a safe, engaging and welcoming learning environment for the students and their families to want to be a part of.

Ms Pascoe says there’s been a massive improvement in behaviour and in learning.

“We’re using the John Hattie learning approach, which is all about kids giving feedback about their work and telling so teachers can adjust their methods. We have a Student Learning Commission that enables students to have a voice and teachers to work with a holistic approach.”

The school grounds have also been improved seeing fresh gardens and new seating, as well as play equipment which provides a healthy balance of work and play. And speaking of play – when it comes to encouraging kids to attend classes, the plan is to work smarter and not necessarily harder.

“We are having a raffle for kids who have achieved more than 90 per cent attendance every week,” Ms Pascoe explained.

“One of our activities is a water balloon fight and it’s between the students who have achieved 100 per cent attendance, the local police and the teachers – you can imagine the attention this draws!

“The kids that are coming to class constantly also get taken to horse riding lessons, and sometimes get given an icy pole as a reward. We do this stuff in front of the other students to make them jealous and show them the fun benefits of coming to class.”

Of course it’s not all just play at Ngukurr school, there is also ‘Families as First Teachers program’ which teaches parents how to work with their children.

“The families at this program get children to be school ready. They go through learning games which are designed to be age related, be it babies, toddlers or kids - the games are all designed to lead the child on to school ready and learning ready behaviour.”

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