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Cross-country buddies: Cockatoo Primary School and Ramingining CEC


WHAT: A buddy school arrangement between two vastly different schools - Cockatoo Primary School (Victoria) and Ramingining CEC (NT).

INFORMATION FROM:
Darrelyn Boucher, principal Cockatoo Primary School, and Corolyn Armstrong (principal) and Bernie McPhee (senior teacher) Ramingining CEC.

THE STORY:
A long relationship (that predates Dare to Lead) has developed between a small semi-rural Victorian primary school which has no Indigenous children enrolled, and a Community Education Centre in east Arnhem Land where 99.5 per cent of the 200 students are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

DARRELYN BOUCHER:
"The program has been going for 10 years. It is not just our school that has a connection to Ramingining CEC, but our whole community. My school is a small primary school in what we call a 'hills hamlet', a little town in a valley behind the Dandenongs east of Melbourne. None of our students is Indigenous.

"The program started with an ex-AP from our school visiting his daughter in Darwin and speaking with the department up there about a school that we could develop a relationship with.

"There was 12 months of planning before we staged our first visit up there. We started very small - we decided to give ownership of the project to Grade 5 which was a group with a commitment in the curriculum to studying Aboriginal history.

"For that first visit there were two staff and four students. They hunted turtles, swam in billabongs, made spears, made art.

"The following year we sent the same two teachers and a new group of kids; we wanted to maintain that relationship - then from the third year on it was one teacher who had made the visit previously and one who hadn't.

"When we go there, anything can happen. You might arrive and there is a special ceremony happening so a lot of the boys are away, or there may have been a death in the community and people are at funerals. You have to be open to that and accepting of whatever happens.

"The first visit that Ramingining made to Cockatoo there were four adults, including one elder, John, who I think came along to see what influences the children would be exposed to. This was amazing - just as our kids had been dazzled going to Arnhem Land, the kids from up north were amazed to see things like shopping centres, escalators, trams.

"The trust between the two school communities is now well-established. They have told us that the experiences we have given them are as important as the ones that they have given us; this is not just a one-way thing

"We have done other things to maintain that relationship apart from annual visits. For example, I have given teachers Leave Without Pay to undertake short-term contracts at Ramingining. I talk regularly with the principal there. The kids have internet 'e-pals', pen-pals who they email.

"Our curriculum now has more rigour in it (with regard to Indigenous perspectives). Interestingly, through this contact with the Top End we have more recently started to make better contact with Aboriginal people from closer to home. We have had visits to the school from people like Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, and Boori Pryor.
"It is a very important part of our school life."

CORALYN ARMSTRONG:
"When the Cockatoo kids have come to our school, our kids have very quickly made friends with them. From that point on, they become the hosts, explaining things in their own way. Ramingining kids tend to be quite shy and unsophisticated - they think Darwin is a big city - and so this contact is great, both when they are up here and when our kids are down there at Cockatoo."

BERNIE MCPHEE:
"Cockatoo PS comes and visits us every year. This year (2005) we will make our fourth trip down to Cockatoo in 11 years. Lots of our kids have never been to Darwin, so they get no chance to see Balandas (non-Indigenous people) other than the ones who live in Ramingining. When the Cockatoo kids come up, our kids have to speak English to the visitors which is great practice. Usually they only speak English when they are at school, but this provides another opportunity.

"Grade 5 at Cockatoo and my grade 5/6 exchange information via letters, and some kids have also emailed as well. We made a DVD to send to Cockatoo which introduces the kids who will be going down there this year, as well as showing them the main parts of our community.

"Sharing of culture is a big thing with this program. It gives real importance to the culture for our kids. When they see other people saying 'This is great', it has a big impact.

"Some of our students who have gone to Cockatoo in the past have formed friendships which have gone on for years. We promote the communication for several reasons, especially because it encourages reading and writing skills in English. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth getting kids to write something in English, but when it comes to writing to the Cockatoo kids they are really enthusiastic. I still get kids who have made the trip in the past coming to ask for addresses so they can keep in touch."

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Darrelyn Boucher 03 5968 8017
Coralyn Armstrong 08 8979 7924



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