ACECQA met Tarsha Howard, Early Childhood Coordinator at Amata Anangu Preschool, in 2013 at the NQF conference in Sydney. Tarsha had some concerns at the time that working in a remote service might be a barrier to raising the quality of children’s education and care. This month we catch up with Tarsha after the preschool was assessed and rated to find out about their journey.
At the time of the NQF conference I was fairly new to teaching and working at Amata Anangu Preschool; a school based preschool on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia. I travelled to Sydney from the remote Anangu Community and learnt so much about the National Quality Standard (NQS), the quality areas and how to lead change and improve outcomes for children.
I realised that while remoteness and isolation certainly present their challenges, it is still possible to provide high quality education and care in our community regardless of our location. I left the conference with a strong resolve to achieve Meeting the NQS during our assessment and rating.
Culture and collaboration
I work with Josephine James, Amata preschool’s Anangu Education Worker, to develop and implement the programs at our preschool. Josephine is from community. Pitjantjatjara is her first language and she has a deep understanding of the culture, past and present. We see each child’s learning in the context of their family, culture and community and use local activities to help them develop a sense of belonging.
Culture is incorporated into everything we do. Different elements of the outdoor play area represent community and the environment of The Lands.
We’ve designed a rock creek that winds from one side of the yard to the other, leading down to a big mud pit and mud kitchen. When it rains in Amata, which isn’t very often, the natural creeks flood and the kids get straight into mud play.
Often the children, families and community members gather to share stories. Josephine leads group time with story wires; a popular cultural activity where children use curved wire to tell their stories in the sand. We also regularly hold family gatherings at the preschool fire-pit, where the treat is kangaroo tail (malu wipu) and damper. Josephine and I use this as a time to share information with families and discuss each child’s learning journey.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is seeing the children transition to school. Once a week, some of the children and I visit Amata Anangu School to develop relationships with teachers and get a feel for school-based learning.
The program is hugely successful. I’ve been in community for almost three years and I’ve had the opportunity to watch the children develop relationships at the school, build their problem solving skills and demonstrate independence. It’s a powerful reflective tool.
One challenge we face in our remote setting is the children’s transience and sometimes irregular attendance. It is not unusual for children to miss preschool for months due to cultural and family obligations. This can make documenting the child’s assessments and evaluations hard, but honouring, respecting and valuing the families and home life is very important. This often includes allocating the time to make contact with teachers in other APY Lands communities to share information about children who are visiting a different preschool.
Assessment and rating – Term 3 2014
The morning of our assessment and rating visit I was terrified that we’d have to close the preschool for cultural reasons, or for an emergency like a snake getting into the outside yard. Thankfully there were no interruptions and the experience was a rewarding one.
Towards the end of the visit, Amata Anangu School principal Greg Wirth and I met with the assessor. It was our opportunity to lead the conversation and share our quality improvement journey. The feedback we received was really positive. Our Quality Improvement Plan effectively tracked our short and long term goals and illustrated our quality improvement story.
The following term, we received an overall rating of Exceeding the NQS in every quality area. We baked a big cake that had all the quality areas on it and invited everyone in the community to our outdoor yard for a celebration and BBQ. People from community spoke in language about the NQF. Everyone was incredibly proud of what we achieved and the role Amata Anangu Preschool has played in each child’s present and future health, development and wellbeing. We continue to grow and contribute to strong early education in the Anangu Lands Partnership.
Visit the Amata Anangu Preschool Facebook page, where the story continues.