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SMASHING THE GAP: Aboriginal students at Eidsvold State School regularly engage in activities which contribute to a sense of cultural pride. Photo courtesy Queensland Department of Education.

'Smashing the gap': Eidsvold shows Queensland how it's done

AT THE end of 2016, Eidsvold State School had an attendance rate of 79.7 per cent for their indigenous student population; one of the lowest in Central Queensland.

At the end of 2017, this had risen sharply to 83.2 per cent.

In 2018 the attendance rate sat at 89.1 per cent.

And in the first three weeks of the 2019 school year, the school's indigenous attendance rate is 92 per cent, just one point behind the national average attendance rate of non-indigenous students.

As deputy principal Preston Parter says, "We're looking at not just closing the gap but really smashing it, for all of our students.”

"We want our kids to be above 95 per cent (attendance), that's our goal,” he said.

Contrast this with Queensland's overall dismal performance in the 2019 Closing the Gap Report, where they were the only state or territory not to reach any targets in the seven categories which are measured.

It's not just attendance the school prides itself on but achievement also.

For the past two years, every single one of Eidsvold's indigenous school leavers have received a Queensland Certificate of Education upon graduating Year 12.

Queensland is not currently meeting this target.

"A disproportionately low share of indigenous students participate in NAPLAN,” the report said, referring to the national testing conducted for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 annually.

Not so at Eidsvold State School.

Every one of their indigenous students sat the test last year.

One of them, a student in Year 3, was in the highest banding for NAPLAN Reading and Numeracy and was accepted into an Education Queensland initiative called "Solid Pathways - Critical and Creative Thinkers” for high-achieving indigenous students.

Preston Parter (right) receives an Australia Day award on behalf of Eidsvold State School for its NAIDOC Week celebrations. He is joined by Corey Appo, a teacher aide at the school declared young citizen of the year.
Preston Parter (right) receives an Australia Day award on behalf of Eidsvold State School for its NAIDOC Week celebrations. He is joined by Corey Appo, a teacher aide at the school declared young citizen of the year. Alex Treacy

"She's been able to go challenge herself, as a school we are able to offer her this opportunity,” Mr Parter said.

Indigenous students are also stepping up as leaders at the school.

Both Tameesha Pope, primary school captain and Treshawn Skinner, secondary school captain are working on being proud indigenous leaders within the school.

Mr Skinner is in Year 7, as is his other co-captain Ella Fort, but so impressed was the panel they saw no choice but to appoint the pair.

"They were just amazing, we said we want them as our leaders,” Mr Parter said.

"They're only Year 7 but that means we've got five years for them to grow and develop as leaders.”

So what is the secret then, to a school with 50 per cent representation of Aboriginal students, in an often forgotten part of the state, that is soaring above the rest of Queensland?

In 2017, in response to the needs of their indigenous students, the school introduced their Yumbin program.

Yumbin, which means "all of us” in the Wakka Wakka language, replaced standard form or home rooms in the morning and groups younger students with older as they rotate through five focus groups for the week.

One of these is the Wakka Wakka language lesson, which Mr Parter said gives all students a sense of "belonging, purpose and connection.”

Now, when visiting the school, visitors are often surprised to hear students using Wakka Wakka language in context when greeting and for common instructions.

Yumbin is not just for students though, Mr Parter said.

"We make sure our staff understand the program's importance, we want our staff to feel connection to this place and their students, it's important that our staff understand meaningful relationships,” he said.

"That's our whole philosophy behind Yumbin.

"If our kids have a good relationship with our teaching staff they are going to want to be at school.

"Our ethos is we all look after each other.”

Meanwhile, at a state and national level, the finger pointing has begun.

Queensland LNP spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Dr Christian Rowan labelled premier Annastacia Palaszczuk "out of touch” and that she must put politics aside to work collaboratively towards closing the gap.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued, in his parliamentary speech tabling the report, that the targets were too hard anyway and Australia was destined to fail.

"It was set up to fail. And has, on its own tests. And today I am calling that out,” he said.

He said the current "top-down” approach to closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians would never work.

"I believe that the progress needed can only be accelerated through a deeper partnership with the states and territories and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians,” he said.

In this regard, Eidsvold State School is leading the way.

"We know our kids and we know what they are capable of, and we know we can push them a little further now because we're not just happy with good results, we want them to be the best,” Mr Parter said.