One of the key instruments KU uses to continue supporting social impact work today is through our charitable entity, the KU Marcia Burgess Foundation. In 2021, the Foundation implemented a range of programs, services and initiatives to deliver a positive social impact including through the employment of a Community Cultural Coordinator at KU Ashmont, the provision of Sound Amplification Systems to children with additional needs, and delivering our five-part Food for Life video series.
In March 2021, KU employed a Community Cultural Coordinator to be based at KU Ashmont Preschool and Family Centre in Wagga Wagga. This was made possible through the support of two Perpetual Philanthropic Impact Grants, including one from the Frank Leyden Tot-Ed Trust.
Ashmont is a low socio-economic area with a large Aboriginal population and communities faced with complex concerns including financial hardships and social adversity.
In consultation with KU’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs team and the Aboriginal community in Ashmont, the project was developed to address Closing the Gap in educational outcomes for Aboriginal children by improving access and providing high quality, culturally appropriate early education experiences.
The role of the Community Cultural Coordinator is to respectfully engage with Wiradjuri peoples and the local Wagga Wagga community, build relationships and trust over time, improve access for families to early education providers, and encourage participation of Aboriginal children in high quality mainstream early education and specialist paediatric and allied health services.
The project is an Aboriginal community-led program with a two-phased approach, with the employment of the Community Cultural Coordinator being phase one. Phase two of the program, which will set about determining future education and service needs along with funding opportunities identified by and with local families and the community, will be supported by a CommBank Staff Foundation Community Grant received in December 2021.
In the first nine months of the program, the Community Cultural Coordinator has sought engagement with Aboriginal families currently enrolled and on waiting lists in KU services in Wagga Wagga, as well as local community groups and organisations to gauge needs and to provide continued support for families. Some of these groups include Murrumbidgee Local Health District’s Early Childhood Assessment Clinic; Anglicare’s Lifetime Learning Program; Aboriginal Youth Mental Health Working Group; Mawang Gaway Elders Group; Aboriginal Interagency Group; local community centres; and Playgroups NSW.
The exploration and implementation of partnerships will continue with these groups and others including the local Aboriginal Medical Service for the creation and implementation of a dental outreach program and a child safety seat program, with both programs expected to commence in 2022; a partnership with TAFE NSW and Playgroups NSW for an educational campaign celebrating and promoting the benefits of early childhood education and the development of a soft entry program into KU preschool services; and a partnership with Wagga Wagga Aboriginal Education Consultative Group to implement ‘Ninganah No More’, a Wiradjuri language program that will involve recruiting two Wiradjuri Language Teachers to deliver the program across KU’s Wagga Wagga services from Term 2, 2022.
The program has displayed early evidence of providing a benefit to the community through assisting Aboriginal families upon enrolment in preschool by building their capacity to navigate government systems to ensure documentation requirements are met, such as by registering for and obtaining birth certificates; communicating with families and linking them with specialist services including Allied Health; sharing information with local families and agencies about the high quality early childhood education services KU offers; providing direct contacts and assisting to reduce barriers affecting positive engagement; providing support, cultural advice and guidance to KU staff to build capacity to deliver culturally informed early childhood educational programs and more.
The Community Cultural Coordinator is proving to be an invaluable resource to both KU and the community as KU continues to develop an understanding and appreciation of the importance of employing local Aboriginal peoples, promoting and advocating for the self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the importance of local community-led programs. KU recognises the benefits this long-term role will bring to children’s early education experiences and outcomes for Closing the Gap in educational opportunities. It will also help us to understand how we can adapt similar programs in other areas KU operates.
Over the last two years, the KU Marcia Burgess Foundation has invested almost $80,000 into the provision of Sound Amplification Systems (SAS), including donating 10 SAS units to Specialist Equipment Libraries in NSW and Victoria in 2021.
SAS units amplify teachers’ voices, making it easier for children to hear their teachers and friends more clearly, thereby reducing distractions and improving their attentiveness.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people diagnosed with otitis media, an inflammatory disease of the middle ear, or needing auditory assistance will be supported by the units, enabling them to hear more clearly and enhancing their educational and social success.
“We love the system. The children are responding to it well and we use it anytime we are inside due to the amount of children with hearing difficulties. It certainly makes the educators’ voices clearer and the children take more notice. We have up to 30 children in the room and it can get really noisy at times.” – Gowrie Inclusion Agency.
The five-part Food for Life video series was funded by the KU Marcia Burgess Foundation, adapted from a breakfast and family engagement program previously piloted within KU. Food for Life was developed as a resource to offer practical, affordable and nutritional advice to KU families.
The presenter of the video series, Charlotte Patterson, a nutritionist and chef, provides practical ideas and information to families that will help young children develop an interest in fresh, seasonal foods and support and encourage the regular eating of a variety of nutritious foods every day. The series includes videos on nutritional foods for children, meal preparation, breakfast nutrition, lunch box ideas and snacks for children.
A total of 41 parents, including families from KU’s social impact services, attended the first round of the video series (August - December 2021), viewing the videos a total of 226 times. The ‘Healthy Lunch Box Ideas’ video was the most appealing session for families, followed by ‘Exploring Nutritional Food Options’. KU’s Business Development and Learning and Development teams are currently in the process of rolling out the second round of the video series in Q1 2022.