Community, Languages, Schools|

“We started in the first lesson talking about kanang wanga – deep listening – and the concept that you listen 110%, with your ears, your heart and your spirit.”

Stephanie Tashkoff – Heywood and Districts SC Gunditjimara Languages Program.

At Heywood and Districts Secondary College (HDSC) in Victoria’s south-west, the Gunditjmara Languages Program, offered to all students in Years 7 and 8, and as an elective from Year 9, is in its fifth year. Year 8 students are offered two lessons per week, and Year 7 students, one lesson per week. Language and local Gunditjmara history is further incorporated into the Year 7 Integrated Studies program to cover the gap in classes and enrich students’ Koorie cultural learnings.

The language program, coordinated by program coordinator Stephanie Tashkoff is run by language teacher and Koorie Engagement Support Officer (KESO) Di Bell, and Joel Wright – Gunditjmara Languages specialist from the Laka Gunditj Language Program (VACL) – has also been assisting the school language program on a needs basis since the program commenced.

Significantly, during 2014 and early 2015, students at HDSC, and students from a number of primary schools in Warrnambool were involved in illustrating and narrating a number of Gunditjmara traditional and contemporary stories for the Commonwealth funded Koorie Languages in education digital project in partnership with VAEAI and the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for languages (VACL). The Gunditjmara story aps were officially launched in early November 2015 in Warrnambool.

To view or download the Gunditjmara story aps from iTunes, click here.

From the community’s point of view, the Language Program is having a very positive impact both at the community level and in student learning, self-esteem and identity building. In its first year, for example during Reconciliation Week, students acknowledged country and Traditional Owners by making a speech in Dhauwurd Wurrung and many local Gunditjmara people in attendance were left in tears with lots of feedback received by VAEAI about the event and the pride community members felt in their young ones.

In 2014, during Reconciliation Week again, Year 7 Language students studying a Local Aboriginal History unit ran language workshops with primary schools – 170 Years 5 & 6 students from all around the district. This was part of the Aboriginal Language and Culture component of the Year 7 integrated program ‘Literacy, Literature and Life’. The primary students were split into two large groups, with one group participating in traditional games, led by Jason Saunders of Winda-Mara, and the other engaging in student-provided Gunditjmara Language workshops. After that, the two groups swapped. The Year 7s worked in groups of 3 to prepare a language activity. Each group of Year 7s taught 5 words to each group of around 10 primary students, with a rotation every 5 minutes; by the end of the two sessions each Year 7 group had presented their workshop 16 times. It was a very busy and productive day, with lots of positive comments about the HDSC students and their activities from primary students and teachers alike. Workshop topics included: Greetings, Locations, Colours, Family, People, The Body, Actions and Animals.

Similarly, Year 8 students went out on Country to the Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) – Lake Condah and Tyrendarra – to have a look at eel traps and farming irrigation systems, as the unit they were studying was all about eels and the deep cultural and economic significance of eels for Victorian Koories. During terms 3 and 4, students learnt names of parts of human and animal bodies, traditional Victorian Koorie body-counting systems, and the significance of land and the environment.

According to school program coordinator Stephanie Tashkoff

“The Gunditjmara Languages program has been extremely beneficial for all students undertaking the course – making connections between the history and culture of where they live, developing understanding and appreciation for local language and culture, as well as encouraging their language acquisition and assisting the development of the different neural pathways that are engaged in language learning.

For Koorie students in particular, further benefits are around developing an enhanced sense of pride and awareness of local language and culture, particularly for students who don’t have a strong connection to the community.

And for the school community overall, there is a sense of pride in being a school that offers a Koorie language; and being a school that is developing a sense of This is who we are!”

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