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  What Works - The Work Program

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Crossways Lutheran School, Ceduna, South Australia.

Working together for a brighter future

The context | The East-West experience | Maintaining partnerships

The context


Ceduna is on the Great Australian Bight, over 800 km from Adelaide.

A Lutheran Primary School was established at Ceduna in 1983, but the Lutheran church had been present in the area since the end of the nineteenth century, and had previously run schools for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children. In 1991, the school was renamed 'Crossways Lutheran School', and in 1995 a cultural studies complex was opened. By 1999, a middle school had been added and the school is currently pursuing the International Baccalaureate.

The district's population includes a variety of cultural groups, but Aboriginal people make up more than half the school population of about 200.

The East-West experience

Early in the history of the school, non-Aboriginal enrolments predominated, but by 1993 that situation was changing and questions were raised about the future of the school. Some friction was evident and a conference of the official bodies in the school was held at Ceduna's East-West Motel to tackle the issues.

A total of 45 people attended, from the school staff, the School Council and the ASSPA Committee. The topic to be discussed was 'The validity of a concern that the numbers of children enrolled at the school from the two cultural groups was becoming unbalanced'.

The event is now described as a watershed in the life of the school, and was an important and emotional experience for those who participated. Read on…

Teacher, Lyn Coote remembers it like this.

I don't think, at that point, I knew how big it was. It was my first year at the school and I thought it's a meeting and I'm going. I didn't really think about it until it happened. We got there, had a meal and then Pastor Dennis Obst spoke. And Frank Lampard [from the South Australian Division of State Aboriginal Affairs] stood up as an Aboriginal man and spoke from that perspective. Then we went through the process of writing down the things that worried us and writing down the things that we wanted to take with us from the meeting. You moved around in groups and put the ideas down and then shared them.


Darren Boyce and Lyn Coote

And we finished with a prayer where we all stood and held hands and cried. It was pretty amazing and I sat there and thought 'we can do this'. There was a feeling in the air. I remember sitting between a non-Aboriginal doctor and an Aboriginal worker and sitting with people of all ages and being challenged and having to listen. I think everyone knew this is your moment, you know, you either speak now or hold your peace.

At one stage I was with two ladies whose sons had both been at the school for four years. One was Aboriginal and one was non-Aboriginal and it turned out they had never met before. But at the end they hugged each other. And it was like these kids were almost the instigators of bringing them together. You can get pretty emotional about these things. Another fellow, a very strong-minded community businessman, whose kids had been through the school, still talks about it today as one of the most moving things he has ever been through.

I think the fact that we had Dennis and Frank there, and they were respected in the community, carried with it the message that this is serious. And that we were there to get to the bottom of it.

Following the East-West experience, the school community accepted that a reconciliation process had to take place and the following Vision Statement was accepted: 'Working Together for a Brighter Future'.

Maintaining partnerships

Of course, maintaining the partnership between the school and its community takes a lot more work and goodwill from all concerned. Here are some of the school's current practices that assist in this step towards improving outcomes for its Aboriginal students.

Contact with parents

Each teacher is expected to visit the house of each child in his or her care. Lyn talks about how it's done.

I think part of it is in the approach. Mine is that I knock on someone's door and then step right off the veranda and wait to be invited to sit. And I don't assume I'm ever going to be invited into anyone's house, and that's fine. Sometimes it's an informal chat, sometimes it's about more serious things. We often have these chats outside. And that's not only with Aboriginal parents, that's with non-Aboriginal parents as well. But it's different for everyone and some people have cake and coffee, but it's not something I expect.

Parents are getting used to home visits now and they expect them. We certainly don't have parents saying 'don't come'! And they want to hear what's happening with their child. In my experience Aboriginal parents definitely want to see that, as a teacher, you're trying your best. And surely that's the same of any parent.

In some ways, it's great for the staff because it actually does help if you get to know the child's background, and how families come in different shapes and sizes. You don't learn this stuff at uni.

Visiting also sets an expectation that the school is interested, will come to you and expects you to be involved. We're not going to reinforce any perception that you send your kids off to school and that's the last you hear about it until they get kicked out.

Also, our attendance policy really operates at the relationship level. On the second day of absence, teachers make contact with the family. So there's no easy option for kids to just wander off down the street without parents getting to know about it.

We're genuine about this. We want Aboriginal parents to know that we have the expectation that their kids will succeed in this school just like we expect anyone else to succeed.

Aboriginal culture in the school

Principal Darren Boyce explains.

The bottom line is that culture and identity are inseparable. If the school demonstrates that your culture is valid, and it's a part of the school, then it's recognising your identity as well. So, instantly that person is empowered because they are part of this place.

The flags are flying out the front and everyone knows that the dominant cultural group in the school is Aboriginal. There's an acknowledgement on everyone's part that that culture is a strong part of this school.

It was emphasised just the other day. A group of parents stood up at a meeting and basically said they send their kids here because it's a family place and they were brought up living together and caring for each other. So they like that, it's no big deal but it fits in with the culture.

For teachers, we have had residential Aboriginal cultural retreats.

We don't think of ourselves as just an Aboriginal school, but we're definitely not a mainstream white school that caters for Aborigines on the side.


© Commonwealth of Australia 2020