With a focus on building strong and proud Indigenous identities, Hymba Yumba Independent School (HYIS) offers a co-educational, Prep-Year 12 education grounded in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
A school of excellence in First Nations Culture and holistic education, HYIS blends innovative programs and technology with traditional methods as well as cultural experiences. HYIS students (referred to as Jarjums, meaning ‘young people’) are equipped with skills they can use in further education and employment, whilst fostering strong and proud connections to their cultures.
In 2020 HYIS was awarded as one of the top 50 Innovative Schools, and in 2021 HYIS was awarded as a 5 Star Innovative School in Australia.
Management at the school recently shared some insights into their approach.
“Upon graduation, it is our aim that all HYIS jarjums will exit with successful completion of at least one Vocational Education and Training Certification and have secured a further study pathway, University, TAFE or employment. Jarjums also acquire additional qualifications such as Barista, Responsible Service of Alcohol and PADI Scuba Diving and begin university courses whilst undertaking high school. The goal is to make the transition from high school to post-schooling seamless. All jarjums will be either earning or learning when they graduate from HYIS.”
As the Australian Government continues to grapple with unmet Close the Gap targets, HYIS, with an 86% Indigenous student body, is reaching milestone after milestone. The school offers a number of certificates and accreditations to their senior year levels, as well as direct entry to a number of universities, and industry partnerships that allow students to work part-time whilst completing year 12.
“Through self-determination, the development of in-demand skillsets will increase the breadth of educational pathways beyond schooling and additionally, showcase the incredible talents and skillsets of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.”
The aim is to develop a skillset that exposes students to a range of experiences, increasing student’s confidence and setting them up for the future of their choosing.
One such offering is a Certificate II in Indigenous Leadership, which 70% of eligible students are currently undertaking. Funded through the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre, this is a vocational course that focuses on leadership styles and builds upon the capacity of emerging Indigenous Australian leaders - and it’s not limited to just the student portion of the HYIS community:
“An offer has been extended (and accepted) by members of our parents and family community to upskill and develop greater opportunities for their own pathways.”
This is one of many ways that families and the wider community are welcomed at HYIS, whose approach to education is guided by the value of Respect:
“At HYIS, we understand the importance of this interconnection of an individual with its surroundings, and so our school is based on 4 Respects.
- Respect for Self
- Respect for Elders
- Respect for Family
- Respect for Community and Country”
Along with these values, HYIS has a number of programs and initiatives that show how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practices, when embraced at a whole-school level, can have a far-reaching impact on the social and emotional wellbeing of not only students but the wider community.
In line with the importance of their 4 Respects framework, community connections play an integral role at HYIS:
“Innovative community guided practice and skills building is not relegated to the co-curricular program or ‘gifted and talented’ streaming at HYIS. It is embedded into the daily teaching and learning, integrated into interdisciplinary, project-based learning as well.”
An example of this is a permanent art installation created in partnership with Mater Hospital and one of HYIS’ First Nations artist-in-residence, Ivy Minniecon. As part of creating the work, hospital staff were invited to the school for a yarning circle led by the students, and the impact of these connections is readily apparent:
“Multiple jarjums are now pursuing a career in health, with one aiming to become a surgeon as inspired by the yarning circle with the Head of Surgery.”
This can also be seen across their other projects, ranging from an Art Gallery and Pop-Up Store, developed and managed by students, to a cultural dance group guided by Elders.
“Last year jarjums were privileged to work with knowledgeable First Nations artists in residence (Kylie Hill, Sarima Chong and Ivy Minniecon) to understand their heritage and catch a vision of their exciting future, as they grow in their identity through the cultural arts.”
As well as a focus on engaging Elders and community members, all of these projects have something else important in common – they are either led or inspired by the students themselves, which is an integral part of HYIS’ vision for the future:
“The transition of learning from classroom-confined competitive and individualised task-orientated work, to our jarjums leading their own learning and defining their own outcomes through community driven, skills-based project learning. This is also evident with another business venture, an onsite Coffee Shop which was designed and staffed, including the registering of an entity and satisfying administration requirements, by HYIS jarjums.”
Some of HYIS’ other key projects are not necessarily academics-focused but provide significant benefits in and out of the classroom. In 2020, HYIS introduced a Dog Therapy Program, the first of its kind in Queensland, with fantastic results.
“The Dog Therapy program has certainly become an integral aspect of our wellbeing approach at Hymba Yumba Independent School with jarjums progressively becoming more settled and engaged with attendance and learning.”
Teaching leadership, self-regulation, responsibility and teamwork, the program is helping students in other areas as well, and the impact extends beyond just the participants, or even the boundaries of the school:
This isn’t the only innovative program to have proved invaluable to students – in the last year, HYIS has introduced the practice of Dadirri (da-did-ee) Indigenous cultural practice of deep listening, providing professional training to their teaching staff and then introducing it at the school. Students now lead 10-minute sessions at the beginning of the day, and the effect has been immediately noticeable:
“We are seeing that not only the jarjums involved in the Dog Therapy Program are demonstrating these skills but also, our jarjums across the school...
Last year, jarjums attended the Empower Assistance Dogs Gala Ball where they handled dogs at the event in front of the night’s guests and saw what their hard work training the dogs can do; help someone with a disability receive a trained Assistance Dog.”
“The behaviour in our jarjums has significantly improved, and our jarjums are even teaching their parents who want to know more. Teachers are reporting of jarjums who are more focused and able to discuss their problems more openly. The sessions have given jarjums a way to deal with life’s daily concerns and still make a connection to their culture.”
Again, student leadership plays a large part in this, with the Year 10 cohort becoming “Dadirri Specialists”. Trusting their students to manage their own learning and outcomes means they’re able to self-regulate their behaviour.
“Jarjums also know if they need a few minutes to calm down, they can take themselves outside and do a Dadirri session on their own.”
These programs and the other initiatives at HYIS highlight the need to be innovative, culturally informed, and responsive to students’ real needs and interests. This combination has contributed greatly to HYIS’ achievements, which at the end of the day, means better outcomes for their students.
“At HYIS, we talk about enabling our jarjums with the skills to walk and lead in two worlds, in the modern world but with ancient wisdom and knowledge, and Dadirri is revealing that that is a true outcome for our young people.”
Special thanks to Hymba Yumba Independent School for sharing these insights.
If you’re looking at ways to better embed Indigenous History, Knowledges and Cultures at your school, we have put together some resources below.
- The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) has an extensive list of curriculum resources for schools, including several Indigenous-owned and controlled sources.
- CSIRO worked with several Indigenous language groups to develop a series of resources on traditional seasonal calendars, to help make Indigenous knowledges more accessible to school students and the broader community.
- Narragunnawali, a program by Reconciliation Australia, provides a range of professional learning resources for staff, in addition to their curriculum offerings.
- SBS Learn has been the Official Education Partner for NAIDOC Week several years in a row, and they offer a range of resources year-round to help connect schools to Indigenous cultures and perspectives.
- Australians Together also provides resources for all year groups on approaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in classrooms.
- The ABC provides an interactive map to display the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.
- Miriam Rose Ungunmerr Baumann is a renowned Aboriginal Artist and Educator and was recently named 2021 Senior Australian of the year. She provides a reflection on the practice of Dadirri, as well as other resources on her website.
- Little J and Big Cuz is a children’s TV show aimed at K-2 students, written, directed and voiced by Indigenous Australians. They have a range of resources for educators to utilise alongside the show.
- Cultural competency courses are available through The Black Card to strengthen the cultural capabilities of school staff.
This blog was written on the traditional lands for the Turrbal and Jagera/Yuggera Peoples and note that HYIS is situated on Jagera, Yugerra and Ugarapul country. We would also like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of each Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.