A remote homelands school is using Indigenous wellbeing ideas to improve student’s mental health
A remote homelands school in the Northern Territory is using Indigenous ideas about wellbeing in its curriculum to improve student mental health.
The Yirrkala Homeland School in north-east Arnhem Land has been trying to address high youth suicide rates, self-harm and poor school attendance, according to its teachers.
Teleta Munyarryun — a teacher at Dhalinjuy, one of the six homelands serviced by the school — has been incorporating emotion-based activities in her classroom.
“We just get the kids to point out how they felt that day or how they felt in the afternoon,” Ms Munyarryun said.
“They put their names next to their emotion.”
The teachers have adapted Victoria’s social and emotional learning curriculum to the Yolngu context.
Ms Munyarryun said focusing on Yolngu wellbeing concepts has prompted attitude and behaviour change among her students.
“Especially for some of our young boys, that used to run amok — now they’re proper well-mannered and they really respect themselves and their sisters, and whoever’s helping in the classroom,” she said.
“I get very emotional, when I see how they change because of this wellbeing material.”
“It changes them in the classroom and it changes the community as well.”
Greater recognition of culture could improve wellbeing
Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr — the co-principal of the Yirrkala School, a bilingual school that works closely with the homelands school — said connecting the idea of “gapu” or water with student’s changing emotions was one approach used by the teachers.
“Sometimes older people say, ‘I’m feeling, like this body of water’ and we know that this body of water can be really rough and fast, like a tidal sort of wave or current, that can sweep people out to sea,” she said.
“They tend to talk about that particular water, but really they are talking about themselves and how they are feeling.”
“They also learn, ‘hey that’s my country, I am the person that belongs to that water’.”
“If they’re calm, then they can help others, other students as well.”
For decades, Yolngu have been strong advocates for education based on their culture and language.
Djalinda Yunupingu, the senior cultural advisor with the Dhimurru Rangers, has been working with the homelands school and said metaphors were often used in the classroom to discuss wellbeing.
Ms Yunupingu said the cycad nut was used as a metaphor for education, a warning that an inappropriate curriculum could be harmful for Yolngu children and hard work was needed to make it right.
“Preparing and putting it in the water to leach the poisons,” she said.
“Then the ladies that comes together to pound or grind the nuts, to make it into a powder before they make it into a bread.”
Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr’s 15-year-old daughter Sienna Stubbs goes to school in the mining town of Nhulunbuy, which neighbours the community of Yirrkala.
She said greater recognition of culture, including traditional Yolngu names, would improve her wellbeing at school.
“The kids, they don’t feel like their name is valued in the school,” she said.
“I’m sure it is, I know that all of the teachers would really like to know how to pronounce them.
“I doesn’t matter if they get it wrong at first, but if they keep trying they’ll get there one day.”
Djalinda Yunupingu and the homelands teachers, Djuna Wunungmurra, Rurruwiliny Ngurruwuthun, Teleta Munyarryun, Lombinga Mununggurr, Claire Rafferty and Roslyn Wheatley said they would continue working on a research project to explore the concept of wellbeing from a Yolngu perspective.
This piece was originally published on the ‘ABC News’ March 9, 2017.