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Kempsey preschool celebrated for excellence in education

NSW Department of Education 3 mins read

Kempsey preschool celebrated for excellence in education

The seeds for Dalaigur Preschool and Children’s Services in Kempsey were sown during a conversation over a cuppa.

Six decades later the preschool has grown to be a cornerstone of its community, educated generations of families - and is a winner in the NSW Department of Education’s 18th Nanga Mai Awards.

The awards, held on November 27, celebrate the outstanding achievements of Aboriginal students, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal teachers, other departmental staff, Aboriginal community members and schools across a range of areas.

Service director Debbie Swanson said it is an honour for the community preschool to win the inaugural Outstanding Early Education and Care Service Award.

It is presented to a service that has demonstrated outstanding commitment to creating a respectful and culturally responsive learning environment for students, staff, families and local Aboriginal communities.

“We’re all so excited,” Ms Swanson said.

“We’ve been throwing our heart and soul into our preschool and to be recognised for the amazing work we all do here is really gratifying.

“We’re all a little bit emotional about it as well, because it’s challenging but also so rewarding.”

Dalaigur Preschool is an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation on Dunghutti land.

It educates about 85 children over three days each week and has 14 educators.

About 95 per cent of the children and 60 per cent of the educators are from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

“There were a few aunties who 58 years ago got together and wanted a place for their kids to go and learn and be safe so they created Dalaigur over a cup of tea,” Ms Swanson said.

“We’ve now got the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those aunties coming through, so it’s a beautiful legacy.

“It’s a big responsibility and a beautiful connection knowing we’re such a trusted and safe organisation for our community’s children.”

The service is rated as exceeding the National Quality Standard (NQS), which means it goes beyond the requirements of the NQS in at least four of the seven quality areas.

Ms Swanson said the service’s ethos is built on its commitment to children, the community and excellence.

“For the kids we want to empower them, especially around their identity and sense of worth, that they can go and do whatever they want to do when they leave us and hit the world,” she said.

Ms Swanson said the service weaves the Dunghutti culture into all its programs and interactions.

Elders Uncle John Kelly and Aunty Vicki Taylor regularly share their knowledge with the children as cultural facilitator and language educator respectively.

The service receives funding through the department’s Ninganah No More language program, which supports Aunty Vicki to host language lessons with the service's children three days a week, as well as visit other local services.

“We don’t have a cultural program as such, it’s so embedded and organic within our service... it’s a natural part of what we do and who we are,” Ms Swanson said.

“For some families they’ve have missed out on their culture themselves and some are learning the language and cultural practices through us and through their kids which is really special… it’s nice we can help support the families in their own journey as well.”

The preschool also works with early intervention services to deliver the Aboriginal Therapy Project, where allied health professionals provide therapy, as well as train and mentor Dalaigur educators and staff to implement the therapy program throughout the year.

The Nanga Mai Awards celebrated 13 students and 12 teachers, community leaders and schools.

Margaret Pengelly from Parkview Public School was also recognised with the Outstanding Contribution to Early Educational Achievement by an Aboriginal Staff Member Award.

She plays a crucial role in the successful implementation of multiple early childhood programs at the school and forms a critical connection between the school and the community.

Ms Pengelly was instrumental in the establishment of the school’s Winhangara playgroup, which was originally an outreach program that welcomed families into a non-threatening and positive early childhood setting.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Education and Early Learning Prue Car congratulated Dalaigur Preschool and Ms Pengelly for providing high quality, culturally safe and inclusive early childhood education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

“It’s crucial that children’s connection to culture and identity is developed and nurtured from the early years,” Deputy Premier Car said.

“Dalaigur Preschool and Ms Pengelly are growing their community’s next leaders and helping maintain and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history for generations to come.”

Deputy Premier Car said the department is working hard to meet targets in Closing the Gap and the First Steps – Aboriginal Children’s Early Childhood Education Strategy.

This includes 96% of Aboriginal children enrolled in early learning in the year before school by 2025 and at least 55% of all Aboriginal children assessed as developmentally on track in all 5 domains of the Australian Early Development Census by 2031.

NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar said there had been an outstanding number of nominations for the 2023 awards.

“I commend the leadership, creativity and excellence demonstrated by our 2023 Nanga Mai Award winners,” Mr Dizdar said.

“These awards continue to show that strong community partnerships, dedicated staff and targeted, culturally appropriate programs are integral to the success and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.”


Contact details:

ece.media@det.nsw.edu.au

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