Most people understand that education is a marathon not a sprint, but is it a fair race when some children clearly start off with much better running shoes than others?
Belinda Pringle, Student Support Officer at Wasleys Primary School, doesn’t think so.
So determined has she been to make sure the students at her school get a fair go, her efforts have earned her a Flinders University sponsored Brand South Australia Education Award, which she has just added to her 2012 SA Public Teaching – Excellent School Support Member award.
With just two teachers, two student support officers and a principal on staff, Wasleys Primary is a tiny rural school with a big heart for its 31 students and surrounding community.
It’s a place where isolation from the facilities and opportunities taken for granted by most schools is considered a challenge to be enthusiastically overcome, not an excuse for failure.
“When I won the position at Wasleys eight years ago I could see that compared to Balaklava Primary School, where both my children had gone, the kids were missing out on a lot of things like camps and band and choir,” Ms Pringle said.
“I thought I could do something about that so I took it upon myself to help them have the same experiences. I thought that this was particularly important because there are already enough challenges in such a small community environment.
“You see so many children fall through the cracks and everyone wants to put labels on them, but I believe all children can be exceptional if given the opportunity.
“We should teach them the way they need to learn, rather than the way we want to teach them. Society in general will be a better place if we can all do that a little bit better as students will feel more engaged in their education and their communities.”
While some may do a little, the long list of activities painstakingly coordinated and run by Ms Pringle, puts her unequivocally in the category of those who do a lot.
“I create and organise different opportunities such as sleepovers, excursions, camps and sports clinics,” she said. “Some of the excursions, which I arranged through local contacts, gave our students the opportunity to see local businesses and cultural events in action.
“We have been able to visit the VET science facility at Roseworthy University, the Proof and Experimental Range at Port Wakefield, and have regular trips to the Balaklava Eisteddfod, which an event named after the ancient Welsh word meaning a ‘sitting’, which describes gatherings of musicians, artists, poets, actors and crafts-people.
“This is all at little or no cost to students or their families, which is really important in a low socio-economic area.”
The education as a marathon analogy is particularly appropriate for Ms Pringle because she also organises Wasleys Primary’s participation in the City to Bay Fun Run with the help of one of the teachers at the school, along with the weekly training sessions which support it.
That event in particular, she says, is a real eye opener for her students.
“Wasleys is a town of just 300 people, so to take the students to the City to Bay, where they are among tens of thousands of people, is an incredible experience for them,” she said. “They are just in awe of the whole atmosphere.
“We even stretch the fun out by allowing them all to come to school in their slippers the next day because they have sore feet.”
And it doesn’t end there for Walseys Primary School’s unstoppable student support officer.
“This will be the third year I have facilitated a band and choir at the school, both of which I do in my own time,” she said. “I also mentor the students involved in the YEL program and run the Student Council, again in my own time; I initiated the Barossa Interschool Chess Tournaments several years ago and run the tournaments each term; and in 2013 I literally built the school’s new garden beds and kitchen spaces, again in my own time, enabling the school to become the only Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden School in the Barossa.”
As the school’s Garden Specialist, Ms Pringle goes one step further still by helping her students improve their eating habits and understanding of where food comes from.
As part of that program she has worked with them to design a garden bed representing the Barossa for the school’s Tasting Australia display, and worked with local artists, students and parents to create mosaic art work for the school depicting their kitchen garden journey.
In spite of her astonishing contributions to the school, it still came as a surprise to her that she actually won Brand South Australia’s Education Award.
“My husband had whisked me away for our wedding anniversary, so I wasn’t able to be there,” she said. “I was a finalist last year, so to win it this year was fantastic. I had people phoning me all night.”
Ms Pringle received a letter of recognition from the Premier Jay Weatherill last year, but says that having Brand South Australia hold the awards ceremony in her local community made this particular recognition extra special.
“I think Brand South Australia’s choice of the pear as the symbol of the awards says it all,” she said. “In South Australia we all do different, but similar, things in each region which all contribute towards improving the state.
“Bringing the awards to the regional areas and recognising so many people at so many levels in these areas has shown us all of the wonderful things going on that we otherwise would never hear about.
“That helps us to move our whole region forward.”
As for receiving an Education Award sponsored by Flinders University? Well that’s the icing on the cake as far as she’s concerned.
“Education is really important for all of us, not just our students,” she said.
“Studying ensures we all continue providing a high quality service to our school, and there are so many courses available to further your knowledge and skills in all areas of the Education sector.
“Whether you are graduating from university, TAFE – or the DECD Registered Training Organisation, as I did last week, it all contributes to the success of our schools and our learning programs.
“That Flinders University is prepared to stand up and back this award is amazing.
“It could have been anybody, but to receive it from Flinders is extra special.”