Aligned to an unwavering commitment to inclusion, KU is committed to elevating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices.

Through a community-led program, KU is on a journey of learning and respectfully engaging with Wiradjuri peoples and the local Wagga Wagga Aboriginal community to improve access and participation in early education and specialist paediatric and allied health services. The KU Marcia Burgess Foundation supports this program through generous donations and grants.

Developed in consultation with the Aboriginal community in Wagga Wagga and KU’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team, this program seeks to help close the gap in educational outcomes by providing high-quality, culturally appropriate early education experiences, and positive transiting to schooling.

Ashleigh Pengelly, a proud Wiradjuri woman, was employed as a Community Cultural Coordinator in March 2021. As a member of KU’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team, Ashleigh is an invaluable resource to both KU and the community as we continue to develop an understanding and appreciation of the importance of employing local Aboriginal peoples, promoting and advocating for the self-determination and community-led programs.

“It’s very important having Aboriginal staff and support in early education services. It makes it so much more accessible and familiar for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children.

It’s not as scary or daunting and people get to experience a community connection right there. It really helps to break down a lot of cultural barriers, and it helps to close the gap in educational outcomes,” said Ashleigh.

Reducing barriers and improving access to early education

Ashleigh supports families in completing enrolment registrations and to secure birth certificates – tasks that can be major barriers for Aboriginal families navigating entry to early education. And it takes time. Not having a birth certificate can cause major hold ups that then creates obstacles for families being enrolled. KU’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team are looking at ways to minimise barriers in the enrolment registration process itself.

Providing cultural guidance that assists KU staff to build capacity in delivering culturally informed early education as well as creating meaningful partnerships with local Aboriginal Elders, services, and community organisations, are other important aspects of the Community Cultural Coordinator’s role.

Specialist paediatric and early intervention services

Working with the team of educators and early intervention professionals at KU Ashmont, Ashleigh reviews health promotional materials to create culturally friendly versions in raising greater awareness about the types of services available and how to access them.

In conjunction with this work, the first get together, after COVID restrictions were lifted, was convened for Aboriginal families, creating a comfortable space for parents to learn about paediatric support services and how these might benefit children with additional needs. Future get togethers will offer expanded opportunities for information sessions on transitioning to school, hearing and dental, for example.

Wiradjuri Language Program

An exciting partnership has been developed with the Wagga Wagga Aboriginal Education Consultative Group to deliver a local Wiradjuri language program across three of KU’s local preschools. The Ninganah No More - Wiradjuri Languages Program is supported by the NSW Department of Education and began teaching KU’s preschool aged children a collection of words from Term 2.

Community Art Project

Supported by a grant from the CommBank Staff Foundation, this arts-based project will engage with local Aboriginal artists, the community, children, and families in the creation of artworks for a welcoming and culturally safe space. The aim of the project is to represent the local Aboriginal community and families through symbolic artworks that convey respect and acknowledge KU’s commitment for reconciliation and our connection to Country.

Community engagement

Since inception of the Community Cultural Coordinator role, Ashleigh has sought engagement with local community groups and organisations to gauge needs and provide continued support for families, including:

  • Aboriginal families currently enrolled and on waiting lists in KU services in Wagga Wagga
  • Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) - Early Childhood Assessment Clinic
  • Anglicare - Lifetime Learning Program
  • Aboriginal Youth Mental Health Working Group
  • Mawang Gaway Elders Group
  • Aboriginal Interagency Group
  • Local community centres

KU Alumni Connect looks to forward to receiving further updates about the community-led programs in Wagga Wagga.