Yipirinya School, founded in 1978, is one of the few genuinely Independent Aboriginal Schools in Australia, both founded and controlled by Indigenous Elders. It takes its name from the caterpillar dreamtime of the Arrernte people of Central Australia.
It was established as a two–way school, bi-lingual and bi-cultural, to teach white man’s way following the Northern Territory Curriculum, and also to keep Indigenous language and culture alive. It teaches four Indigenous languages and is perhaps the only school in Australia to do so.
The School caters for the Aboriginal children from the town camps and outstations of Alice Springs, some of the most disadvantaged children in Australia. Sadly, in this background, poverty and overcrowding, abuse and neglect are common; alcohol and violence are endemic.
The School is a family school with a Child Care Centre for two and three year olds, a Pre-School for four year olds, a full primary school from Kindergarten to year 6, and a secondary or middle school from years 7 – 10. It has an enrolment of approximately 200 students.
The School has many challenges. As an independent school it is not entitled to full government funding but its parents cannot afford to pay fees, so it is financially handicapped at the start. It is also caught in the funding “blame game” between Federal and Territory governments and its limited classroom funding has to stretch to cover all its needs and initiatives. Its facilities and resources are severely curtailed by its finances.
The School’s students are also seriously disadvantaged by their background and poor living conditions. Health and nutrition issues abound and there is a high incidence of trauma related problems. Families are very mobile and attendance rates are poor – the School struggles to achieve a 60% average. All Yipirinya students are learning English as a second or third, or indeed foreign language. These factors are not conducive to literacy and numeracy attainment.
Yipirinya School Council recently approved the nomination of renowned singer and actress Jessica Mauboy as official Ambassador for the School.
Yipirinya School Principal, Ken Langford-Smith said, “ The children adore Jessica and she is a great role model”.
Jessica Mauboy responded, “The children are lovely and I want to make this Indigenous Organisation the focus of my charity.”
Jessica’s Manager, David Champion, explained that the arrangement meant that Jessica would do all she could to promote the School and assist in fund-raising. Plans were being made to record the school song together, songs for the Honey Ant Readers and to create a children’s book.
Jessica and her team would also promote the School’s “Caterpillar Collages” project – its aim to provide cottage-boarding facilities at the School as a refuge for Aboriginal children at risk or in need in the town camps and outstations of Alice Springs.
Jessica has made a number of visits to Yipirinya in the last couple of months and the School is pleased to announce there will be many more to come.