The Gidgee Preschool – a foundation for community
“Every child should have access to early education – no matter where they live” – for many early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals, this is a statement which will draw nods of agreement. However, in many regional parts of Australia, it’s not so easy to “take it as read”.
Considerations of affordability, population, funding and infrastructure can often wax and wane with time. One thing that doesn’t change, however, is location. For services in rural and remote Australia, balancing viability, recruitment of educators, service provision and professional development is a complex challenge.
With the support of Community Connection Solutions Australia (CCSA), The Sector is pleased and proud to share the story of how a dream became a reality for this small town in New South Wales.
Where, what, and how? We start in Weilmoringle
In 2017, following the launch of the Rural and Remote Education Human Resources Strategy, CCSA advocated strongly to the NSW Government for children in remote communities to be able to access a high-quality early childhood education program – and it doesn’t get much more remote than Weilmoringle.
A very remote community in the Upper Culgoa floodplain, Weilmoringle is 180 km north of Bourke, near the Queensland border. With a population of 70, there is no access to services like transport or, until the intervention of CCSA and other partners, early childhood education.
Aunty Josie, a Weilmoringle community member, said she’d often dreamed of a preschool for the community; “we’d asked and tried to get funding, but with no success”.
The Start Strong Community Safety Net pilot program provided a mechanism to the NSW Department of Education to provide funding to very remote areas with small populations – and thus the Gidgee journey began.
Once the needs and priorities of the community had been identified, CCSA developed a staged plan which engaged networks, services and resources to complete the project. The formation of a working group, including Aunty Josie, signaled the formal beginning of the project.
Reflecting on the challenges at the commencement of works, CCSA CEO Meg Mendham said one of the more challenging aspects was transforming the Weilmoringle school rooms and grounds into something that was suitable and compliant for running a preschool program – but, that in this challenge, there was exciting engagement from the community about valuing education.
Principal of Weilmoringle Public School Lisa Wright agreed, adding “being so remote, it’s very difficult to get tradespeople, and that took a lot of time and energy – but it was so worth it”.
The preschool’s first day of operation was in August 2018. An independent community preschool, Gidgee is named from an important Aboriginal totem in the local Muruwari community – the Gidgee tree. The preschool is open to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal families.
Ms Wright said having the preschool established was “a dream come true” making a significant impact on the school readiness of the children coming in to Weilmoringle Public School. Prior to the establishment of Gidgee, children were travelling an hour or more, one way, to access the nearest services, and when there was no private transport available, children simply did not access early learning.
CCSA described the outcome of the project as “very successful” enabling the organisation to convey the importance of early education and overcome the complexities of remote area delivery.
Where to from here?
At the time of press, CCSA is working to establish a second preschool under the Community Safety Net Program, working with communities in Louth, NSW, to open another remote preschool. A spokesperson for the organisation said CCSA looks forward to seeing further projects roll out across remote NSW.
Kate Wansea, Project Manager with CCSA, said the project demonstrated genuine engagement and collaboration, with the ultimate pillar of success being a connection to country, which she said “underpinned the project”.
The last word, of course, must go to Aunty Josie, who summed up the journey succinctly and beautifully saying “it’s finally here”.
The Gidgee Preschool is the first project of its kind in NSW, and was supported in development by CCSA and the NSW Department of Education. CCSA is a peak ECEC sector body, celebrating 50 years working with the ECEC sector in 2019.
Further information about Gidgee Preschool, including images and stories from the educators, is available here.