Before the Australian Government’s Remote School Attendance Program started in Ltyentye Apurte more children were hanging around the shop than going to school. But, seven months on things have changed considerably.
CatholicCare NT manages the program in Ltyentye Apurte. Before it started the school attendance officers described scenes of children wasting their lives sitting around. Ltyentye Apurte now has one of the highest school attendance rates in the area. Averaging 79 per cent attendance during term 4 (2014) and recently becoming the first school in that region to reach 81 per cent attendance, a vast improvement from 72 per cent attendance when CatholicCare NT got involved earlier this year.
Eight school attendance officers work throughout the day, helping families get their children to school and making sure they stay all day. Raymond Palmer, Ltyentye Apurte’s program supervisor said it had been a hard journey. “We were faced with a challenge and we rose to it.”
Raymond said both parents and children would question what they were doing. “It’s important that we help kids get to school. They are our future, they need to learn, be educated, and get a real job.”
The crew starts at 7 am and it is not uncommon to see students on route waiting to be picked up. “They like to eat breakfast at school and get a good start to the day,” said Raymond.
“Some others are a little harder to get motivated and are picked up on the second bus run for the morning,” he said.
Mary Malladad, one of the school attendance officers, sees good changes happening. “The kids are happier,” she said. “In the beginning it was hard. I would sit at the shops in the morning and see too many children. So I would talk to the parents and encourage them to take their kids to school first, they eventually listened”. The shop was also her first point of call during recess and lunch breaks, but now Mary describes things as being much better.
“We love our job and the variety it offers from helping to supervise during recess and lunch, and lending a hand in the classroom. Plus, we offer a lot of support to families and help them sort out any issues getting children to school,” said Mary.
Driving around the community Mary spots a child who should be at school, once she has their attention she questions why they are at home. New recruit Roberta Cavanagh explains how sometimes parents say that their children are sick. “If a child is sick we ask the parents to take them to the clinic to be checked out and get a sick certificate for school. “We are really pushing hard on this,” said Roberta.
As a team the school attendance officers want to continue to challenge any excuse for not sending children to school and want to continue to beat their own records.