2022 Victorian Early Years Awards winners announced | The Sector
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Victorian Early Years Awards winners announced

by Freya Lucas

November 21, 2022

The winners of the 2022 Victorian Early Years Awards (VEYA) were announced earlier this month across seven categories, along with a Minister’s Award. 


The in-person awards ceremony was hosted by celebrity Myf Warhurst, with the awards being announced by the Minister for Early Childhood and Pre Prep Ingrid Stitt. 


Six organisations and two early childhood teachers were recognised for their achievements and contributions to leadership, outstanding achievement, and innovation in improving outcomes for Victorian children and their families. 


Winners in each category receive a grant of $15,000 for professional development or to support their initiative.


Category 1: Improving access and participation in early learning


Won by Coburg Children’s Centre Inc (CCCI), this category recognises an initiative that promotes access, ongoing participation and engagement in early learning, particularly for families experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage.


CCCI is improving access for children who experience barriers to their learning. Partnering with D.O.T.S Occupational Therapy, the centre is working towards creating safer and more inclusive learning spaces.


Sensory activity and processing are crucial to all children’s early development. CCCI have completed a comprehensive environmental and sensory assessment of their learning environment with the aim of modifying the centre’s spaces and practices to improve access for a diverse community of children, including those with sensory processing disorders and Autism.


CCCI have supported their educators to develop their capacity to identify and support children’s sensory needs through professional learning. Educators have been supported to change practice, systems, and routines to better support all children to fully participate in their learning.


The other finalist in this category was Education Pathways Program, Launch Housing.


Category 2: Supporting parents to build their capacity and confidence 


Tuning into Kids for Families with Experiences of Homelessness – Launch Housing, in partnership with Star Health, secured this category, which recognises an initiative that supports families, parents and carers to feel confident and capable in their parenting role, and recognises their role as the first and most important teachers in supporting their child’s learning and development.


Tuning into Kids for Families with Experiences of Homelessness (Tuning into Kids program) is an evidence-based parenting program supporting parents and carers to build and support emotional connections with their children.


Through the Tuning into Kids program, parents are supported in a trauma-informed and culturally responsive manner to develop the skills they need to strengthen their relationships with their children and support their children’s development.


An internal evaluation of Launch Housing and Star Health’s facilitation of the Tuning into Kids program demonstrated that it is having a positive impact on parents and carers’ ability to understand their influence on their children’s behaviour and support their children’s emotions.


Finalists in this category were The Family Voices Podcast, Early Childhood Intervention Australia Victoria/Tasmania; and, Toy Well Toy Library, Toy Libraires Australia, in partnership with Trawalla Foundation and Besen Family Foundation.


Category 3: Creating Collaborative Community Partnerships


Awarded for an initiative that promotes collaborative practice to support and demonstrate positive outcomes for children and families, the winner in this category was GenConnect – Maroondah Occasional Care in partnership with Kerrabee Centre.


In 2021, Maroondah Occasional Care partnered with the Kerrabee Centre to develop the program GenConnect. GenConnect is an intergenerational program that is bringing the children and senior residents of Maroondah together to build family-like connections and a new community.


Maroondah Occasional Care and the Kerrabee Centre developed the GenConnect program to bring together children experiencing vulnerability and trauma and senior residents from the Kerrabee Centre’s Social Inclusion and Wellbeing program experiencing social isolation or a disability.


GenConnect is supporting the children and senior residents to develop their social and language skills and relationship through conversation, play and intentional teaching which has facilitated new and sustained relationships. 


Finalists in this category were Ballarat 4 Kids and Ready, Set, Prep! Merri Health.


Category 4: Promoting Children’s Health and Wellbeing


Mooroopna Park Primary School Wellbeing Program secured this category, which is awarded to an initiative that is improving health and wellbeing outcomes for young children.


In partnership with The Greater Shepparton Foundation, Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project, Melbourne University, Neighbourhood Schools Paediatric Clinic, Plunkett Orchards, Foodshare, and many local community organisations and groups, Mooroopna Park Primary School has established a Wellbeing Team to improve the lives and outcomes of their school community, many of whom experience high levels of disadvantage.


The Wellbeing Team has developed an Oral Language program and a Healthy Eating Program to address two key areas of need.


With support from the Greater Shepparton Foundation, the school’s Oral Language Program is delivered by a speech therapist, supported by speech therapy students from Melbourne University. 


Working to support teachers and education support staff to build their capacity in oral language development, the Oral Language Program has informed the implementation of a structured and effective literacy approach in the early years classrooms.


The Healthy Eating Program underpins the school’s award-winning Wellbeing Program by offering free daily breakfast, morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea to every student. The positive impact of this locally sustained and health initiative is evidenced by significant improvement in children’s behaviour and engagement in learning.


Finalists in this space were the Interactive Play Program, Your Community Health and Ready, Set, Prep! Merri Health.


Category 5: Continuity of Early Learning


Awarded to two or more early childhood services, schools and/or other organisations that support continuity of early learning through successful transitions, this category was secured by Ready, Set Prep! – Merri Health.


Ready, Set, Prep! (RSP) is a place-based, collective impact approach to improving school readiness, overall health, and wellbeing for children in the culturally diverse City of Moreland.


RSP is a partnership between Merri Health, Moreland City Council, maternal and child health, libraries, early years and community services, playgroups, kindergartens, and primary schools to significantly improve outcomes for Fawkner’s young families – now, and for future generations.


The initiative was started in response to the 2015 Australian Early Development Census results, demonstrating that one-third (37 per cent) of children in Fawkner start school developmentally vulnerable in one or more areas – significantly higher than state averages.


A key foundation of RSP is community-led governance, with local families represented on the steering committee and working groups. RSP initiated a working group on school readiness and transitions for early years educators, service providers and community members. Together, they facilitated a school online readiness session to support families feeling under-prepared for transitions because of COVID-19 lockdowns.


Buninyong Uniting Kindergarten‘s transition to school program, delivered in partnership with Buninyong Primary School was a dual winner in this category. 


Buninyong Uniting Kindergarten and Buninyong Primary School have formed a cooperative partnership to support children’s continuity of learning and transition between kindergarten and primary school.


Seeking to extend their partnership and transition program, they initiated a collaborative action research project through the Continuity of Learning Program, delivered by the Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership. Completed over four months, the research project has continued to shape positive outcomes for children transitioning to school from kindergarten.


The program now includes longer transitions to support children with additional needs and increases support for sustaining the continuity of relationships across settings. Prep students are encouraged to visit the kindergarten, and kindergarten teachers come to the school to support vulnerable children to attend transition days.


Category 6:  Early Childhood Teacher of the Year


Awarded to an early childhood teacher who demonstrates evidence-based innovation and exemplary practice in early childhood education, and making a significant contribution to the development and delivery of high-quality early childhood education programs that improve learning and development outcomes for children, Brooke O’Brien from Honeypot Early Learning Centre was the 2022 winner. 


Ms O’Brien implemented a Bush Kinder program to support the development of children at Koroit’s Honeypot Early Learning Centre, many of whom are experiencing trauma and struggling with regulating emotion.


Situated at a local Aboriginal site, Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, the Bush Kinder Program was developed in consultation with the local Gunditjmara community to help children experience nature and develop emotional wellbeing while learning about local Aboriginal history and culture.


With training in trauma-informed practice, Brooke has adapted the Bush Kinder program to meet children’s needs, ensuring they feel safe and supported. Brooke has implemented sensory play as a therapy tool, uses predictable routines and engages children’s interest to support the forming of trusting relationships.


Summative assessments of children’s learning and development have demonstrated the Bush Kinder program is having a positive impact. At the beginning of the year, assessments showed 40 per cent of children were below expected developmental levels, after six months of the Bush Kinder children were meeting developmental milestones.


Amandah Taylor from Yuille Park Children’s Centre and Julie Fitt, St Columbas Uniting Kindergarten, were finalists in this category. 


Category 7: The Emeritus Professor Collette Tayler Excellence in Educational Leadership Award


Awarded to an early childhood service or approved service provider that has led their educators and teachers to significantly improve the quality of their learning and teaching practices, with a focus on intentional teaching practices to achieve improved outcomes for Victorian children and their families, the Nature Kinder Program – Gold Street Children’s Centre – Keele Street Campus secured the win. 


Keele Street Kindergarten has established a Bush Kinder program at Yarra Bend to support children to connect to Country and nature.


The leadership team adopted a collaborative approach, guided by critical reflection, to develop a Bush Kinder program that was relevant and meaningful for their kindergarten community.


The team consulted the Wurundjeri Land Council, Parks Victoria, and Merri Creek Management Committee to understand the history of Yarra Bend and its cultural significance. Working together, they developed a place-based Bush Kinder program responsive to children’s emerging interest in flora and fauna.


Landcare custodians showed children how to treat Country with respect when visiting. Wildlife safety experts shared practical skills and knowledge about the wildlife the children could encounter at Yarra Bend.


By creating opportunities for children to learn about Country and the natural bush environment of Yarra Bend, Keele Street Kindergarten has seen an increase in children’s wellbeing, participation, and sense of belonging in their community.


Brighthouse Early Learning Centre and Haritsa Xenidis, Bambou Early Learning Centre were finalists. 


The Minister’s Award


The Minister’s Award is a special commendation that has been selected from the pool of finalists across all seven categories and selected by the Minister of Early Childhood.


Amandah Taylor, Yuille Park Children’s Centre, secured the win in this space. Under her leadership, the Children’s Centre team at Yuille Park Community College has developed a kindergarten program catering to one of the most disadvantaged communities in Victoria.


Amandah has taken the service from ‘Working Towards’ to ‘Excellence’ in all 7 areas of the National Quality Standards, in just four years. Demonstrating a strong commitment to professional development and evidence-based practice, Amandah has tailored her kindergarten programs to meet the needs of the diverse community.


Through the development of the Yuille Park Community College Reconciliation Action Plan and the Anti-Racism Policy for the Children’s Centre and college, Amandah has built strong and culturally sensitive relationships with the local Aboriginal community.


Amandah’s leadership skills were instrumental in coordinating the City of Ballarat’s Best Start Program, and in the development and implementation of a bridging program between the college and the centre, ensuring continuity of learning and the successful transition to prep for a vulnerable cohort of children.

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