Walwa Community Connections Enhance Local Education

On the road between Albury and Corryong, nestled just beside the Murray River, lies the small township of Walwa (population 300). Here, the local primary school- Walwa Primary School- is the sole education provider for the immediate community and have been utilising their local community to enrich student learning.

Since coming to Walwa Primary School eighteen months ago, Principal, Leanne Baxter has overseen a number of new initiatives that have brought fusion to school and community life.

Essentially it has been about ‘tapping in’ to the expertise and talents of those in our local community to propel our student learning. We know that with an ageing population, there are many retired or semi-retired people who are time-rich and want to still contribute in a meaningful way to our community, said Leanne.

So, for the twelve students enrolled at Walwa Primary School, meaningful community connections have been built that have been enhancing and supporting their learning. Beginning small, celebrations such as Grandparents and Special Friends Day were a great way of making links with the broader community and the Walwa students took responsibility for teaching local community members about robots, coding and the use of computer programs such as Excel and Word. It became apparent though, that this concept of school-community learning could be further built upon.

Initially, students embarked on a program of visiting and reading to the residents of the local aged care facility each week. Very quickly, Leanne saw the connections and richness that this experience brought to both sides.

Not only was this providing our students with a genuine purpose for reading aloud and putting their literacy skills to use, but the aged-care residents obviously enjoyed the company and were able to provide 1-1 reading support that otherwise couldn’t be provided to every student simultaneously in a school setting.

Seeing the connections grow and student engagement and results being positively impacted, it was clear that such community partnerships with educational purpose should be further investigated. The next step in furthering this partnership work came with the desire to provide the students at Walwa Primary School the opportunity to put on a school production- something that is often a near impossible feat for such a small school to do on their own.

Determined to provide the experience of a school production to the students enrolled at Walwa, Leanne worked alongside the students to develop a script and then engaged the local community to assist in both acting and producing it. With a team of five community volunteers, students were mentored from the first rehearsal to the final performance and were provided the opportunity to act alongside various community members. Held at the Walwa Bush Nursing Centre and medical practice, there were in excess of 80 audience members from the local district for the production of “Finding Jill”. For the community and school children alike, there was a sense of jubilation at the end of the evening- a true community collaboration.

This term, to continue the school-community connections, Walwa Primary School students are undertaking a Community Service Program. This program will see all students embark on a weekly time allocation to go out into the community to undertake community service that will ‘give back’. The Community Service Program will see Walwa’s senior students electing to work with community-based organisations such as Meals on Wheels, the Bush Nursing Centre, the Community Centre or even with the local vet.

Junior students will also participate with community members coming in to the school to teach them the skills of knitting and crocheting to make blankets for those less fortunate than themselves.

What we are facilitating is a mode of two-way learning and respect. Community Service makes it sound as though the community is benefitting from the work of our students; in reality, our students are benefitting just as much-if not more- by drawing upon the skills and expertise of working alongside our community’s citizens.

Going forward, Leanne hopes to further grow the community-school partnerships- opening not just opportunities for her students to grow and develop, but also for the rich talent and expertise of Walwa’s citizens to be shared which will ultimately benefit the wider Walwa community.