From sheer exhaustion on Sunday to exhilaration by Tuesday evening. The difference made by fifteen amazing, inspirational, creative, insightful young Aboriginal women with the on-going support of staff in Delroy School in Dubbo, local Elders and NAPCAN.
Students (from Years 7-10) volunteer to be part of the AGC, which entails a weekly session with a teacher trained in Circle Solutions and supported by an Aboriginal Education Officer. Using games and creative activities this is aimed at developing healthy relationships, resilience and responsibility. The girls think about who they want to be, identify their own strengths, learn about cooperation and increase their sense of belonging. Circle Solutions is based in the principles of respect, agency, positivity, inclusion, democracy and safety. The facilitator is also a participant and what happens during Circle sessions is reinforced throughout the week. Agency is important – it means not telling students what to think and do but enabling their own understanding of what is kind or respectful and why this is a better way of being.
We have just returned from a significant event in the life of the AGC – the annual residential camp. This includes exploring how some inspirational Aboriginal women, despite severe challenges in their lives, have achieved amazing things. The girls think about what gives them pride in their Aboriginality and also what they would like to change. By the end of the two days the girls have chosen a project they hope will make a difference. In the following four terms they work on this together, everyone taking responsibility for each small step towards their final goal.
Previous cohorts have worked on cultural awareness and family histories, made a book on what hurts and heals racism, written and performed a play and dance on friendship and now this cohort is focusing on health – especially the problems linked to diabetes.
Not only did the girls work to get to a unanimous decision on their project but we also had such fun together. In one game they used coloured tissue paper, feathers and ribbons to dress up three girls for a fancy dress party; in another they made collages of what their ideal community would look like. We also had a trip to Dubbo Zoo and a fire Circle with singing, attended by local Elders. The girls learnt that doing things together was really enjoyable, that they had a voice and a right to be heard and this meant listening to others.
I am humbled by the willingness of these girls to engage, inspired by their determination to make a difference, moved by their focus on community needs and amazed at how much we can learn together. This project is in the process of evaluation by the University of Western Sydney and an article on Circle Solutions has just been published in the International Journal of Emotional Education. But there’s one thing reading the evidence and another seeing it first hand, not only during these two days but hearing about the differences over time.
The AGC isn’t just changing students, it is changing schools and teachers – it is impacting on communities – not all together and not all at once but step but step the landscape seems to be shifting. I have loved being part of this – and, especially as a European woman, honoured to be involved. My thanks to you all.