2009 Life Membership Innovation Award

Principal Joyce Stark and Life Member, Dr Colin Boylan

St Joseph‘s School, Barmera

Context Statement

St Joseph’s School, Barmera is a developing Catholic primary school in the Riverland region. The school has an enrolment of 115 students from Reception to Year 7, spread across five classes. Over 10% of students are Indigenous. A large percentage of students are of Greek origin.

Barmera is a small town which relies on the fruit growing industry to sustain the local economy. Due to the unending drought, fruit growers across the region have borrowed twenty five million dollars to purchase water in the diminishing hope of keeping their crops viable. This means that any available monies are being poured into city banks to repay escalating debt, robbing the local community of its livelihood. The morale of the community is low due to the collapse of the family fruit blocks and the associated downturn in local business and employment opportunities. Times are challenging in the Riverland.

Project Description

Titled Riverland Flamenco Fiesta, the project aimed to create an opportunity for the community to come together and have fun, while raising the profile of the Spanish program at the school. The local Bonney Theatre was secured for the week and artist in residence Susi Masi from Adelaide’s Studio Flamenco, worked daily with students to develop skills in flamenco dancing. Teachers and parents also attended workshops with an adult class being held one evening. On Thursday night dancers and musicians from Studio Flamenco converged on Barmera for an evening performance. Student posters around the town ensured a full house. For some families this was the first time they had been able to go out together for the evening.

The culmination of the week’s activities was the Fiesta held on Friday morning. The day began with students, families and members of the broader community at the Bonney Theatre where senior students led prayer in Spanish. Languages teacher Carol Edwards had worked with all-classes who presented items of song, dance and poetry in Spanish. Artist-in-residence Susi Masi then invited each class to perform their flamenco dance, which was accompanied by internationally acclaimed Spanish guitarist Aloysius Leeson. WinTV filmed the students for regional broadcast. Their skill, gusto and attitude surprised some parents; one mum remarking, “I didn’t think he had it in him. ” The celebrations continued back at school as students and their families enjoyed Spanish foods, participated in a range of traditional Spanish children’s games and .cheered on their favourite, vertically grouped soccer team for the final of the St Joseph’s Euro-cup soccer. The pinatas provided a memorable finish to the Fiesta and announced the beginning of school holidays.

Descriptive Summary Statement

Who prompted development of the project?
At the beginning of 2008, Spanish teacher Carol Edwards and newly appointed principal Joyce Stark were successful with their submission for a grant as part of the Catholic Education SA Languages Grants Program. The aim was to involve not only the entire cohort of students and teachers but also the wider Barmera community in a celebration of Spanish culture to mark the International Year of Languages. From inception the project was not just for the students bur for the entire community to come together and have fun.

Who did you get involved in its establishment?
The Languages consultants from Catholic Education SA were involved in the project from its inception and liaised with Caty Manrique, Education Advisor to the Spanish Government, who attended the Fiesta and was supportive of the community. Local involvement occurred in ripples, radiating out from the school, and gathering strength from the Parents and Friends Association, School Board, local Parish, BerrilBarmera Council, Barmera Library, Studio Flamenco and friends and families associated with all of the above.

What are the long term goals?
The long term goals are to ensure that the Barmera community remains strong and vibrant: high levels of engagement in learning, standards of excellence, community involvement, hope for the future.┬áThe profile of Spanish has been raised and it is envisaged that languages learning will continue to be integral to the culture of the school. a commitment to a languages program resonates with the school’s culture of inclusion.

As the youth of the Parish prepare to go to Madrid for the 2011 World Youth Day celebrations, there are plans for the senior students from St Joseph’s School, Barmera, to also join in the pilgrimage. This has provided a focus for the teaching and learning of Spanish at the school and in the broader community. The real life context that the visit to Spain provides, drives student motivation to improve language skills and understand more about Spanish life and culture.

Who will benefit from your project?
The school has benefited from the project with community confidence in the school high. The families have benefited from the project as through involvement in the project they have built relationships with each other, and share a common focus of creating a positive future for their children.

The staff have benefited from the project as it was a catalyst for the school to identify as an inclusive environment. Spanish was experienced across the curriculum reflecting inclusive curriculum. All students were involved and were given opportunities to demonstrate their learning in different ways reflecting an inclusive pedagogy. The students have benefited from the project because they had fun learning with their peers and families as imaginations were sparked and whole beings engaged.

What effect has your project had in your area?
The Fiesta has directly led to an increased interest in the teaching and learning of Spanish. There is an increased community confidence in the school as a centre of educational excellence with a focus on positive futures in a global community. The links between the school and community were enhanced by the Fiesta with the school seen as a hub of life long, life wide learning.

The Spanish Fiesta project provided a media and social event that raised the profile of the Spanish and Arts program within the school and broader community, and for a full week, it was flamenco dancing not water allocations that dominated kitchen table conversations.

What are the distinctive rural features of the project?
Being a small country town made it possible to readily involve the local community in the project. Because times are tough, people welcomed the opportunity to join in with the celebrations, have fun with their children, engage in new learning and immerse themselves in the sense of hope that these students represent; a cohort of young learners embracing global difference in an inclusive learning environment. Low cost access to the historic Bonney Theatre, just a short walk from the school, was a distinctive rural feature of the project.

The willingness of families to participate in all aspects of the Fiesta from flamenco lessons, preparing Spanish foods, coaching and cheering on the soccer stars, decorating the school and watching themselves in the local media reflects the strong sense of belonging that families have with the school and their understanding that the someone out there who will make things happen is actually them. The Fiesta was an empowering experience for the community. It was a privilege to be part of the celebrations, as the community came together and immersed in Spanish culture, had fun.