2nd February, 2021

Eight students graduate from Yirrkala School

Dhaṉḏiya Garrawurra (left) and Kenisha Winuŋuj, the school dux who has applied to study medicine.:
Yolngu co-principal Merrki Ganambarr-Stubbs with Yirrkala school year 12 graduate Dhurumul Munuŋgurr.:

Cotton On Foundation was proud to witness a huge milestone for Yirrkala in December last year, with eight students graduating year 12, four of whom received their ATAR score – a first in the community!

The success of these students can in large part be attributed to Yirrkala School’s bilingual program and their “both ways” approach, which focuses on students’ Yolŋu language and cultural identity in addition to the mainstream curriculum.

“Bilingual ‘both ways’ schools are a vitally important part of closing the gap in educational attainment for Yolŋu people – but it is more than that,” the Yolŋu co-principal and director of Yolŋu studies, Merrki Ganambarr-Stubbs, told The Guardian.

“The existence of bilingual schools shows us that the education system respects our language and values our culture.”

Djalinda Yunupingu has mentored the graduating students for the past four years, since early in Year 9, through a partnership with Cotton On Foundation and Yirrkala School that supports four Wellbeing Workshops per year.

Yirrkala School’s Wellbeing Workshops help support young Yolŋu students in years 10, 11 and 12, families and teachers in a holistic education model through wellbeing support, mentoring and pathways workshops.

“We are all so proud of these young people and what they have achieved,” Yunupingu said.

“But this is just the start. We elders who have been on this journey know how important it is for their education to continue on strongly from here.”

Vanessa Marika, a local Yolŋu teacher, emphasised the importance of teaching Yolŋu people in their own language to help them better understand deep ideas and concepts.

“We are very excited that two of our ATAR graduates will be starting their bachelor of education soon because they are the future of bilingual education.”

The dux of the school, Kenisha Winunguj will be studying medicine this year.

“I am feeling happy to have completed my year 12 studies and get the opportunity to go to university and study to be a doctor and explore different options for my future,” she said.

Dhawuthawu Mununggurr hopes to become a remote area teacher “and teach my own culture and my own language in the future”. Kaya Mununggurr is planning a career as an artist and printmaker.

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