40 Years and Going Strong

The Nathalia Learning Community Alliance has celebrated 40 years of collaborative education at its biennial conference in Mulwala.

The cluster initiative between the town’s four schools – two State and two Catholic – has long attracted industry praise for its collaborative foundation.

But in Nathalia, the notion of public and catholic schools working together is just normal or usual – like Vegemite on toast – and their question is why other towns don’t do the same?

Nathalia Secondary Principal John Sciacca says working together “just makes sense” but concedes his town is quite unique.

“Nathalia is a place where I can use the adage, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, and I believe it or, rather, I know we practice it every day, but in other places I’ve lived and taught, that’s just not the case,” Mr Sciacca says.

“The sense of community here is very real,” he says.

“It’s not about State versus Catholic and it’s not about enrolments – we have our points of difference and parents know that when they choose their school, our job is to put the students at the centre and give them everything we can, no matter what school they actually attend.”

In the early years – Nathalia Primary and St Francis Primary work together on a literacy partnership with local businesses – Community Literacy Approach.

It sees the young pupils head out of the classroom for a tour of their own town, calling into various businesses for reading sessions – local business owners, along with community leaders sitting down with children reading them books.

In the senior years – Nathalia Secondary and St Mary of the Angels – classes are offered via common timetables, enabling greater subject selection, particularly in VCE.

“It just comes out of necessity really, what we do works best for the students,” Mr Sciacca says.

“I teach a Year 12 Maths class – half of the kids are from St Mary’s, half are from here – that’s just how it works,” he says.

“No doubt, it helps that our schools are located on the one block but more important than that is how we just get along, we put work into our relationship and so the relationship works.”

And it is with this approach in mind, that the schools now plan to work together on the Victorian Government’s new Respectful Relationships Framework. 

“We did a lot of work around this at the Mulwala conference, looking at ways to introduce and reiterate, in our teaching, what it takes to build healthy relationships, resilience and confidence,” Mr Sciacca says.

“We’ve still got plenty to do — it’s a very broad curriculum — but it was important to discuss at the conference at a time when we were all together in one room.”

And on the same page, finding how best to implement a whole-of-school approach to family violence, gender equality and gender stereotypes.

It’s a lot of work but in Nathalia, at least, they’ll do it together because that’s just what they do, that’s their ‘usual’ – like Vegemite on toast.