OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO SCHOOL COMMUNITY
EXTRAORDINARY SUPPORT AT CAIRNS SCHOOL LEADS TO ‘INCREDIBLE SUCCESS’
One of the nation’s most extraordinary hubs of support for students and their families has been set up at a Cairns school thanks to an inspirational educator who is a finalist in state teaching awards.
From medical and legal services and a foodbank on site, to an ‘It Takes a Village’ strategy which connects students and their families with dozens of external support agencies, to community sponsored meal deliveries sent out to vulnerable families, to a teaching team which undertakes daily at-home “letterbox conversations” to build relationships with parents and carers, to a referral hub for government services on school grounds, Cairns West State School (CWSS) Deputy Principal – Engagement, Cathy Nixon, has led countless initiatives to improve the lives of CWSS students and their families.
She has also worked with local businesses, schools, charities and community organisations, and governments, to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars of services and resources to enable these programs to happen.
Mrs Nixon, who has had extensive experience working with students facing some of the most challenging socio-economic circumstances in Queensland, is a finalist in this year’s Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Outstanding Contribution to School Community Award.
Around 70 per cent of CWSS students identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, and Mrs Nixon has built credibility in the local community through her ‘Family First’ and ‘Stronger Smarter High Expectations’ approach. She says it is an honour to work with Indigenous families, and also families from across the world, in what is truly a multicultural community where teachers greet pupils in many languages.
“Every day I get to experience the oldest living culture in history; I get to work with families who still speak traditional languages at home and practice strong cultural protocols. And then, in the next five minutes, I can be speaking with a family who are from a refugee camp in East Africa, so I am exposed to these incredible stories, and the strength of human nature,” Mrs Nixon said.
She said education was about growing the whole child, and supporting the social and emotional wellbeing of children was crucial for their learning. So, when school staff noticed many families weren’t using local health and government services, they decided to do something about it. Mrs Nixon – with the support of her team, including the award-winning CWSS principal, Michael Hansen, and a new Department of Education Far North Queensland Region motto, ‘Whatever it takes’ – used funding to hire three extra full-time support staff and focused on five key strategies: ‘Family First’ and ‘It Takes a Village’; ‘Story Matters’, an approach in which staff concentrate on listening to students’ and families’ stories first; ‘Permission to Innovate’; where different support provisions promoting success are researched and trialled and ‘100 per cent the Best’; involving coaching sessions for staff working intensively with families.
“So, we’ve used our existing relationships within the community to build a wider range of services. Our community here trusts us and parents tell us if they need help. And we get that immediate plug-in to services and they don’t have to go off campus – they don’t have to wait weeks for an appointment … And we’ve had incredible success. I’m amazed at how quickly things have turned around,” Mrs Nixon says.
She said her team was “constantly trying to think of ways of connecting to our families because at the end of the day it’s just about connection, safety and belonging”.
Mrs Nixon said the local community “had been through some tragedies” over the past five years, and school staff had worked around the clock to show they were there for families. “We just constantly show up. We show up, we do the work. It’s all about connection … I can log up to 60 home visits a week. A reason to visit can just be positive affirmation. I value a world where everybody has a positive contribution to make; teaching is not just a job, it’s about committing to the future, it’s about growing a better Australia,” she said.
The winners of the TEACHX Awards will be announced on 29 October, on the eve of World Teachers’ Day in Australia.