Beyond the gates

Staffrooms are awash with expertise, but looking further afield and tapping into resources and support outside the school gates can improve student outcomes.

The successful ERICUS (Educating Remote Indigenous Children in Urban Settings) program at Darwin's Millner Primary School is built around strong partnerships with several organisations. Although it began formally in 2008, its roots can be traced back to 2002, when one of the school's teachers set up a playgroup in a Town Community.

'It was out of that [work] that we saw the need for a special targeted program,' former ERICUS coordinator Elspeth Hurse explains. 'The teacher would go to the playgroup and ... find lots of kids that had never been to school ... then there was our [own] attendance data, and some of those students had attendance rates of around 10 per cent or less.'

Millner Primary School caters for 230 students, representing more than 40 language groups, with 78 per cent having English as a Second Language. Up to 50 students are involved in ERICUS at a time.

Identifying student needs is the first step in establishing a successful school and community partnership. Hurse, a Lead Teacher at the school, says program staff realised early on that it wasn't just about attendance and education – there were also health, housing and cultural issues that needed to be addressed.

'If we were going to have any success, we could see right from the word go that we needed to be working alongside [many] other organisations.'

Save the Children employs Cultural Guidance Officers in Town Communities, who work alongside educators to get kids to school. A preventative health program was another priority, so the school partnered with Danila Dilba Aboriginal Health Service.

'Then, on the engagement side, we had our partnerships with the AFL and Corrugated Iron Youth Arts (which runs a circus skills program at the school),' Hurse adds.

In 2011 Millner Primary won a Schools First State and Territory Impact Award to help fund ERICUS. Hurse says the program has developed over the years to meet additional student needs.

'Our target group was originally the children from Town Communities. As we evolved, we found that there were also just a lot of children out in the suburbs who were from remote communities, who were in [Darwin] because parents were accessing dialysis, or legal services, or were in rehabilitation programs, or who'd just moved into town to be with other family members.'

The program no longer has a dedicated classroom. 'We have a whole school approach. [The school wellbeing team meets] weekly, so we're constantly looking at our data, where the needs are and then working with our partners to address those need areas. But, we're also looking at our strengths and how we build on those.'

There's also a clear understanding of partner roles and responsibilities. 'We have quarterly partnership meetings, and in the early days it used to be us reporting to the partners,' Hurse recalls. 'Now the partners give [progress] reports as well.'

Attendance, wellbeing, engagement and achievement have improved. The number of clinic and emergency hospital trips has also reduced. 'This year I have been to the doctors with children twice ... [for paediatric appointments],' Hurse says. In 2009 it was once a week.

The partnerships have also evolved and The Smith Family is now partnership broker for the program. Hurse says the key word in all this work is 'commitment'. 'The fact [is] that there were some very passionate people, myself included, in the early days with that strong commitment, and we, as a school, have shared that commitment and that others have taken it on.'

Is your school using outside resources to improve student outcomes?

How could community partnerships support some of your students' needs?