Closing the Gap profile: Moss Vale High School

In the field article written on the 20 Mar 2012

By Oxfam volunteer, Sarah Morris

Two hours south of Sydney, Moss Vale High School has been working hard to ‘Close the Gap’ of inequality for Indigenous Australians in their community. Over the last three years the school has gone from strength to strength in awareness, support and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth. This represents great development from previous years as partnerships have worked to improve knowledge and support of Indigenous youth within the school and district.

National Close the Gap Day on March 22 is an exciting day on the Moss Vale High School calendar, with the school community celebrating the diversity of its students and recognition of the year’s achievements. However, more importantly, it is also a day to involve both students and teachers in awareness of changes that are still needed to provide equality.

The school has formed strong partnerships with community and training groups along with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and students. These partnerships have spurred the development of support programs within the school.

These programs include the Indigenous student homework centre and tutoring in conjunction with Individual Learning Plans in an effort to increase the number of Indigenous students completing Year 12. There has also been the development of the student group ‘Kooris @ Mossy’, a mentoring system, roll call and peer group for Indigenous students. These programs work alongside various other initiatives for apprenticeships, training and scholarships in which students have excelled.

Adelle Morris, the former coordinator of Indigenous programs at the school says, “The power of partnerships in our community is their capacity to achieve real and sustainable change. These positive relationships have a flow-on effect in all aspects of the school community.”

The success of these programs speaks for itself with students welcoming an engaging relationship with the school and their studies. The school and students have received numerous awards due to these effective partnerships, including four Indigenous students gaining regional awards for numeracy, attendance, sport and the prestigious Nanga Mai Award for literacy.

“Despite all the efforts, the gap still exists and in some instances is still difficult to combat. To overcome this we need to continue working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, families and community members to gain understanding of initiatives that will garner even more success,” says Adelle Morris.

On National Close the Gap Day, the school has organised various activities. Kooris @ Mossy, the Student Representative Council and teacher David Barros will hold a barbeque with the key focus being to raise awareness of the gaps in health equality and education. They are also running a fundraiser, the proceeds of which will go to a local Aboriginal health initiative.

Year 7 and 8 students at Moss Vale High on National Close the Gap Day 2012

Throughout the year senior PDHPE students have worked on their knowledge of the health and education gap between Indigenous Australians and the wider community. The culmination of this is seen on National Close the Gap day when these students hand out information and talk to their peers about the gap and ways to overcome it.

Yianni Vasilakis who heads the Aboriginal Education Leadership team at Moss Vale High School says, “The students benefit by developing an idea about what closing the gap is and also the kids feel empowered by doing something.”

Principal, Suzi Williams, a Murrawarri woman herself, is passionate about every Koori student reaching their potential. She says, “This may mean excelling at Dance, Mathematics, Biology or Land Management, it doesn’t matter what, as long as each individual does their personal best and strives to always improve.” Mrs Williams is particularly proud of the fact that there are an unprecedented 16 Indigenous senior students at Moss Vale High in 2012.

Sarah Morris. Photo: OxfamAUS

With two key determinants of health status being education and employment, the partnerships Moss Vale High School has developed are achieving great success in their efforts to close the gap affecting health inequality and life expectancy.

Moss Vale High School sits on Gundungurra land.

About the author

Sarah Morris is a volunteer at Sydney’s Oxfam office, studies International Relations and Social Policy at Sydney University.