A major goal of Peter and mine has been to obtain keycards so they can begin practicing good financial literacy skills. This task proved more arduous than anticipated: we initially thought we could just register on the bank’s website, but most students lacked enough forms of identification to open an account. We called Commonwealth and got three different answers on what to do– eventually, we called the local Money Management service, and they said they could register the students with verification from community elders as a form of identification. But then, on the day we were supposed to register all of the students, Commonwealth changed its community elder verification process! Luckily, we were able to drive the seven students into town yesterday, and with the help of Kimberley Money Management, we obtained the necessary community elder signatures and got them registered. Their keycards are now on the way, and hopefully with some supervision and our budgeting and finance lessons, they’ll be able to wisely manage their money from here on out!
Today was the school talent show, and we got to see some amazing acts. The students here are amazing singers, dancers, and musicians, despite having received little to no formal training– just a byproduct of intellectual curiosity. It was amazing getting to see everything these kids can do!
Peter and I went to Windjana Gorge on a day-excursion with the students today, and it wa absolutely breathtaking. It’s amazing how in touch these kids are with nature– the guys hunted a goanna and bush turkey, the girls caught dozens of fish, and a couple of the guys even found a python in the woods…and grabbed it?!
It’s cool that personal development happens in so many ways at this school. Even when they’re not in the classroom, these students are learning about their culture, living in nature, and sharing with their community. The Yiramalay school has challenged my perspective on school in so many ways, and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity.
“To look, to listen, and to feel is to learn.”
My perspective on my role as an educator and a friend has changed significantly since arriving here. I came in thinking that my role would be strictly academic, and that these students would need to be taught (in an admittedly Western philosophy) discipline, the meaning of learning, and the importance of work. I was frustrated that each day was so spontaneous and unstructured, and concerned that this then bred disorder and a lack of discipline within the students.
But after talking to Ned, the director of our school, I’ve been rethinking some of my perspectives. And, interestingly enough, a lot of these have been shaped through my experiences horseriding.
- Pressure needs to be turned on, but also turned off. To ride a horse, you need to continually squeeze it and guide your weight so that it knows to move. Squeeze, release. Squeeze, release. Students are the same way: you can’t just continually build pressure on them, or else they’ll explode– potentially on you.
- Flexibility is a necessity. When you ride a horse and ask it to trot, if you stand still, you just hop up and down like a heavy sack of potatoes. It’s not fun for you, for the horse, and for anyone watching. You need to learn to move with the horse. In the same way, we need to move with students. If they don’t want to do subtraction games, move on. If they don’t feel like getting out of bed, take them out on a trip. Routine doesn’t work at a place like this– we need to adapt.
- Learning happens in more than one way. Horse riding isn’t just a physical experience– it’s emotional, it’s mental, it can even be cultural as well. Here, I need to understand that even if students aren’t in a classroom, that doesn’t mean they aren’t learning. They’re developing themselves personally and socially in a uniquely safe and healthy environment. Maybe attendance isn’t everything– it’s about what they learn outside the classroom too.
Culturally sensitive training is a challenge. But I hope that with more mindfulness, understanding, and awareness, I can begin to maximize my impact here. -S
Sometimes teaching happens beyond the classroom. Yesterday arvo I went on a hunt for bush turkeys and goannas. While waiting for Ned to get the equipment the lads were talking about starting a supermarket in the bush. I reckoned it was a good opportunity to talk about so we discussed the reasons why chain supermarkets can offer lower prices than local shops. We then went on talking about what they would like to have in the bush supermarket and when I said that we should have crocodile meat, one of the kids said “no, it will flood as a punishment if you hunt a croc because it’s forbidden by the local culture,” which is a cultural rule I did not before but certainly applicable if you want to run a bush supermarket here. So I took the chance to talk about respecting cultural rules, such as ethnic and religious practices, if one wishes to do business with certain groups.
This experience, despite in very casual settings, opened up to me the possibility that teaching should take place in the environment students are familiar with and when students are relaxed, so that they would be aware that learning is not restricted in textbooks nor in the classroom. On the other hand, I start to realise the high expectations for teachers to be able to connect teaching content to real life scenarios, seek teaching opportunities and make good use of stories to engage students and explore the issues they should be aware of.
One would be very surprised if he imagined the Outback to be dusty, dry, and dusty. These pictures, taken by me (Peter) when I was left behind for the Quarry, sort of captured the interesting mix of things we have on campus. Where you expect to be the driest place in the country you see sprinklers; where you expect to be a place with few people you see cars and buildings; where you expect to hear just the sound of nature you see (part of) a guitar. Yiramlay is a neat mixture, not only for things but also people (who all went to the Quarry save Peter that day) – kids from various communities near and far with various mother tongues, family stories and experiences, as well as staff members from as far away as Norway. Hopefully Sherry and I will be able to learn about how to work and more importantly, be with all the people with different stories during our time at Yira.
Last Sunday the whole school were out to the Lenna River to cheer for our very own bike riders taking on the Gibb Challenge – travelling more than 500 kilometres in the Outback to raise money for the Royal Flying Doctors, a vital medical service for remote communities. After arriving at the river, the kids got straight into setting up the huge banner done by Peggy. We had our eyes on the horizon for one and half hours before the bikers pulled in, and we shared a riverside picnic together accompanied by the boys doing stunts. The bikers didn’t stay more than half an hour before embarking on their journey again, but from the lead-up to waving good luck – this is what school spirit is all about.
Peter and I have begun teaching our classes in financial literacy and entrepreneurship. Right now, our biggest challenge is just getting the students to show up on time. Our first class, everyone came in 30 minutes late, leaving us 15 minutes for our lesson. Whether there are random meetings or they just don’t want to come, cultivating student attendance has been difficult. It was expected with a group like this, where the students aren’t typically used to formal schooling, but we’ve had to create new class plans 5 minutes before class is due to start for low attendance. I wonder if this is related to the culture of punctuality, or if it’s something more individual to the students. I hope I can gain a better understanding of that during my time here. But I guess all of it is just part of a learning experience, for both Peter and I and the students alike!
We have been having a great time in their extracurricular activities though. Below (from left to right) is Peggy, Tammikah, and Peter, painting a boab nut– the nut of a tree grown only in regions of the Kimberley. The aboriginal peoples use boab nuts for food, medicine, and art. There’s a center in Fitzroy that paints and sells these boab nuts as part of a social enterprise that I hope to take the students to soon!
Every Saturday, we travel to Fitzroy Crossing for a footy tournament. Except on our way to this tournament, Ashley spotted a goanna, and the boys collectively ran it up a tree, threw rocks at it until it climbed down, and chased it around until Jermayn hit it. Billy killed it, and we ate it for dinner later that night. It was a little gruesome, but it has the taste of chicken with the texture of crabmeat- admittedly pretty good!
and so our journey begins!
Peter and I have cumulatively traveled for over 64 hours to arrive at Yiramalay. I flew from DC to LA to Melbourne to Broome, and Peter from Duke to Dallas to Melbourne to Perth to Broome. Yiramalay is so isolated that it’s then a five hour drive to the actual school, but we saw some amazing sights on the way.