Dalaigur Preschool and Children's Service wins award
The Sector > Provider > General News > Dalaigur Preschool wins Nanga Mai Award for Outstanding ECEC service

Dalaigur Preschool wins Nanga Mai Award for Outstanding ECEC service

by Freya Lucas

November 30, 2023

Dalaigur Preschool and Children’s Service in the New South Wales town of Kempsey has won the inaugural Outstanding Early Education and Care Service Award in the NSW Department of Education’s 18th Nanga Mai Awards.


The Nanga Mai Awards ceremony celebrates and recognises Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal teachers, other departmental staff, Aboriginal community members and schools that demonstrate excellence across a diversity of areas.


The preschool, which has been a mainstay of the community for more than 50 years, was awarded for its outstanding commitment to creating a respectful and culturally responsive learning environment for students, staff, families and local Aboriginal communities.


Service Director Debbie Swanson said winning the award was a huge honour for the community preschool, and that the whole team was very excited. 


“We’ve been throwing our heart and soul into our preschool and to be recognised for the amazing work we all do here is really gratifying,” she said.


“We’re all a little bit emotional about it as well, because it’s challenging but also so rewarding.”


The preschool is part of an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation on Dunghutti land, and educates and cares for approximately 85 children over three days each week and has 14 educators.


About 95 per cent of the children and 60 per cent of the educators are from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.


“There were a few aunties who 58 years ago got together and wanted a place for their kids to go and learn and be safe so they created Dalaigur over a cup of tea,” Ms Swanson explained.


“We’ve now got the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those aunties coming through, so it’s a beautiful legacy.It’s a big responsibility and a beautiful connection knowing we’re such a trusted and safe organisation for our community’s children.”


The Exceeding rated service is built on this commitment to children, and to the community in which they live. 


“For the kids we want to empower them, especially around their identity and sense of worth, so that they can go and do whatever they want to do when they leave us and hit the world,” Ms Swanson said.


Dunghutti culture is woven into all programs and interactions at the service, with Elders Uncle John Kelly and Aunty Vicki Taylor regularly sharing their knowledge with the children as cultural facilitator and language educator respectively.


Through the department’s Ninganah No More language program funding is made available for Aunty Vicki to host language lessons with the service’s children three days a week, as well as visit other local services.


“We don’t have a cultural program as such, it’s so embedded and organic within our service…it’s a natural part of what we do and who we are,” Ms Swanson said.


“For some families they have missed out on their culture themselves and some are learning the language and cultural practices through us and through their kids which is really special…it’s nice we can help support the families in their own journey as well.”


The preschool also works with early intervention services to deliver the Aboriginal Therapy Project, where allied health professionals provide therapy, as well as train and mentor Dalaigur educators and staff to implement the therapy program throughout the year.


The Nanga Mai Awards celebrated 13 students and 12 teachers, community leaders and schools.


Margaret Pengelly from Parkview Public School was also recognised with the Outstanding Contribution to Early Educational Achievement by an Aboriginal Staff Member Award.


She plays a crucial role in the successful implementation of multiple early childhood programs at the school and forms a critical connection between the school and the community.


Ms Pengelly was instrumental in the establishment of the school’s Winhangara playgroup, which was originally an outreach program that welcomed families into a non-threatening and positive early childhood setting.


Deputy Premier and Minister for Education and Early Learning Prue Car congratulated Dalaigur Preschool and Ms Pengelly for providing high quality, culturally safe and inclusive early childhood education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.


“It’s crucial that children’s connection to culture and identity is developed and nurtured from the early years,” Deputy Premier Car said.


“Dalaigur Preschool and Ms Pengelly are growing their community’s next leaders and helping maintain and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history for generations to come.”

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