City News

New school to change the lives of ATSI kids

Left to right: Shania Wasley, Shireen Finn, Ben Ceissman, Latae Phillips-Roberts / Photo: Edwin Monk

As students around the state go back to school, 21 kids will be the first to benefit from a unique new primary school in Redfern.

Redfern Jarjum College (RJC), a school for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students, will open the doors to its first pupils on Monday.

A Jesuit community initiative, the $2.8 million school was made possible by tireless fundraising and support from St Aloysius College at Milsons Point, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney granting RJC the use of a burnt-out presbytery next to St Francis’ Church for a ‘peppercorn rent’.

The fire-damaged building was reborn as a striking new school in bright colours, while incorporating its original heritage features, thanks to the work of Camperdown architects Peter Lonergan and Julie Cracknell.

RJC Principal Beatrice Sheen said the re-born building reflected the ethos of the tuition-free school, which aims to give new opportunities to ATSI kids who have experienced hardship.

“We’re focusing on students who’ve had a hard time with various issues and maybe haven’t fitted in very well at other schools for one reason or another,” said Ms Sheen.

“That could be children with learning difficulties, behavioural problems, health issues, or kids from tough socio-economic backgrounds.”

Ms Sheen, a proud Gamilaroi woman, said RJC would operate from 8.30am to 5.30pm weekdays and offer students breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack, and free uniforms, shoes and books.

“Poverty plays a big part in why these kids haven’t done well at school, so we’ve got an all-round, holistic approach,” she said.

Long-time Jesuit community worker Ailsa Gillett OAM, said the school’s approach was developed through liaison with the local Aboriginal community.

“From day one, we have liaised with the elders of the Aboriginal people,” said Ms Gillett, who has been an executive assistant at St Aloysius College for more than 30 years.

“The education [program] has been developed together.

“Every child will have an individual learning program … What we’re doing at the moment is assessing the children just to see where their needs are – not only in the education area, but also emotionally and psychologically.”

The students’ ATSI heritage is even reflected in the school’s architecture, said Eric Goodwin, Inaugural Chair of the RJC Council.

“The colours and materials used, as well as the school itself, make the college very different from traditional schools,” said Mr Goodwin.

“Education will be based on group learning at the college, with the children sitting around a table and all learning at a similar pace,” he added.

The college takes its name from the Bundjalung Aboriginal language, in which “jarjum” means “children”.