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  What Works - The Work Program

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Condobolin Preschool Centre

What you need are familiar things… and familiar people as well."

The transition programs | Encouraging parent interest | Flexibility

Extracts from an interview with Sue Green, Coordinator at Condobolin Preschool Centre which was one of the sites where the transition program operated.

Sue Green, friends and rabbit at Condobolin Preschool Centre

Sue Green, friends and rabbit at Condobolin Preschool Centre

When she was asked why she had taken on the participation of Aboriginal kids so seriously, she made the following comments.

I've always been concerned about the poor enrolments of Aboriginal children but I suppose the real commitment came when my children were at the primary school and I did relief teaching. I could see the Aboriginal children failing and my children's Aboriginal friends not succeeding at school. Yet I'd had those children at preschool and they were doing quite well, but for some reason they just weren't doing well at school, they were getting into trouble and disrupting the rest of the class. When I would have them over at my house, they were still like those beaut little three and four year-olds that I had at preschool."

In 2001, 47 per cent of Condobolin Primary School's Kindergarten enrolment was Aboriginal and only five children, a very small percentage of the whole group of 60, had not been to preschool.

"We've always had an interest in trying to get the Aboriginal children into the service and we've always struggled with doing that... We started off with fifteen sessions a week, and we went from fifteen sessions a week to sixty sessions to ninety-five sessions a week, and last year we were offering 127 sessions for Indigenous kids out of a total of 315 sessions. We had 43 indigenous children enrolled out of 126 children."


The transition programs

We ran the transition to school programs here at the preschool. I had an Aboriginal assistant, also employed by the Department of Education, and we would both work from the preschool. We would pick up the kids in the morning using the new [in 1998] preschool Tarago and bring them into the preschool to provide them with the preschool program. We had contact with about 23 children through the week. What it also did was help the preschool, a lot of the Aboriginal parents decided to enrol their children and extend their enrolment for the whole day.

The following year the assistant and I actually went over to the primary school [across the road] and worked in the Kindergarten room some of the time to keep the children familiar with what was happening and to have familiar staff and people there at the primary school. We worked on the literacy and numeracy targets as well as following up what was happening in the classroom.

What you need are familiar things - songs, games, approaches to what's happening I think - and that comes from having familiar people as well. That's what really provides the comfort zone. It's the security. Also, I think that the parents need to feel secure about where they're leaving their children, and if the parents don't feel secure then you won't get the children coming along.

At this preschool we've always tried to employ people from the community so that there is always someone here, a familiar face that the children will recognise, or somebody else that the children might know (often it might be an auntie, cousin or community friend). We've been doing that since the mid-70s, and that's been reinforced now that we've done so much more work with our Aboriginal community.

How many adults are in the centre? Today? Six or seven. Half of those are Aboriginal people."

Encouraging parent interest

About half the students come to the centre in the centre's Tarago van. One of the main factors of getting the kids here is having that transport - to be able to say we'll go and pick the kids up and bring them home. We did a survey of parents about access and the one thing that will improve access and attendance for children, and their answer was - the bus. That was the biggest thing.

You don't always get to see the parents. But if we didn't have the bus and we left it to the parents to bring them, would we have those children regularly attending? I don't think we would get them as regularly. We haven't got the transport in the town. The parents haven't got the transport.

We still have a certain group of parents who actively come and look for that interaction from us, so they drop their children off and pick them up. They like to have the contact. But with other parents, we sometimes don't see them here for three months and that really concerns me.

The parents aren't actually looking in at the program and seeing what's happening and that's so important. We try to compensate for that by having barbecue days and information days and getting the parents in that way, but it really isn't as good as daily contact. That helps to develop relationships with all of the staff.

Sometimes the barbecues are successful; sometimes they're not. But generally, if we can throw on some sort of attraction as well, a dance group or a face painting day, we have a few parents turn up. Today, we've got the Aboriginal Education Assistants coming from the TAFE College as well, and we're having a little talk about literacy and numeracy, my choice, and behaviour, which is what the parents asked for.

We'll just have a little meeting and a barbecue, a talk and a look around the preschool and set up a few activities, so they can see the sort of things the kids will play with when they come to preschool. We'll just see how that works.


Flexibility is the key, both from us here and the primary school. That, and willingness to take a chance on trying a different program.

It depends a lot on how all of the staff, that's primary and preschool, approach the program in the first place. If they are positive and inspired by the opportunity to do it, that's great. But if they're not well informed, involved and understand what we want to achieve, I've found they often remain negative.

We have had a long history here at the preschool of working in a job share arrangement which actually frees up our staff to try new things, and that's helped develop that relationship with the school as well... We started job sharing the transition programs over at the primary school through the Kinderstart program. That went on for a few years just for two to four weeks a year depending on funding. We would run a five-day a week Kinderstart program for Aboriginal and low income families or children who had not accessed preschool. That's where that relationship with the families and school developed, just from that flexibility and our manoeuvrability to fit in with the school's programs and their ability to actually find the funds and make it suit what we needed to do.

We have been deemed to be too successful! We now have nearly all the children attending preschool and so we haven't been able to get the extra money to run transition. That's a real problem because there are still some children not accessing preschool. There is only a small group of them but now we don't have the means of meeting them. The money also gave us the extra staff to take the children over to the school and be involved.

Excursion requirements have really tightened up now. So, to actually take the children for a walk across the road like we used to do is very hard because we have to have so many staff here - and it's not that impulsive 'let's just go'. You know... 'Oh look! we've got half an hour now, let's go and visit Vicky at the canteen and see what she's doing today. Let's walk past the Kindergarten and give them a wave, and see where the toilets are and go to the toilet, or walk past Mr Webb's office and see what he looks like in the office. Or go and visit Mrs McDonald in the library and read a book and then come home again.' It needs to be organised with parent help to meet the number requirement.

We've done the casual visits over the years, we've done a lot of just walking around the primary school, playing on the equipment and doing all of the looking and becoming familiar stuff.

I think that's probably the best way of doing it - to have that as part of the preschool programs is to have those visits to the primary school all the way through the year. We've only got the ten weeks in Term 4. Some of our kids only come one day a week, so they've got ten opportunities to visit the primary school, so that's why I try and do it all through the year, just to give them that extra opportunity.

The geographic proximity to the school works for us - we are just across the road, we hear the bells and see the sport days. I think it's easier in small communities where we can meet the staff and have the access to each other. But we still have to work at building and keeping the relationship going. It would be simple to stay in our own little world."


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