A remote Aboriginal school in Western Australia has broken two, long-standing records by winning a state science award.
The Science Teachers Association’s (STAWA) Secondary School of the Year award — now in its 59th year — had never gone to an institution outside Perth, or to a school with a mainly Aboriginal student population.
That has all changed with the win by the Christian Aboriginal Parent-directed (CAPS) school in Coolgardie, more than 500 kilometres east of Perth.
The CAPS students focused on bush medicine, including the properties of local maroon and turkey bushes and sweet potato leaves. They also made biofuels.
School principal Kurtis Leslie said the award was an exciting tribute to the students and their teacher.
“Our kids probably don’t see science as so exciting, but now that they have this teacher that loves science … they get to do this competition and develop their confidence,” he said.
“It’s a recognition that they are successful and they are able to compete on the same level as any other student, and that they have gifts and they have abilities and talents that they can continue to grow.”
STAWA’s Science Talent Search Awards were announced at Scitech Discovery Centre in Perth, with many students making the trip with teacher Allan Alipio.
Mr Alipio, who came to Australia from the USA in 2015, said he tried to transfer his own passion for science to the kids, who often came up with their own ideas.
“I see the kids with the ‘ohs’ and the ‘wows’ and the ‘ahs’, when I teach science I feel excited,” he said.
“It will give me energy to teach more, to provide them with all these experiences, hands-on activities.
“As teachers we really need to cultivate their passion, so we need to see excitement first in the classroom, that’s what we do here.”
PHOTO: Science teacher Alan Alipio has taught students all of over the world, but is relishing his time in the Goldfields. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Sam Tomlin)
Aboriginal parents drive higher education option in bush
CAPs has kids from Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Geraldton, the Kimberley region and the Northern Territory.
It was originally set up by Aboriginal parents who felt higher education was not being encouraged in the region.
Aboriginal student attendance rates at WA State and Catholic schools currently hover around the 75 per cent mark on average, compared with higher than 90 per cent for non-Aboriginal students.
Mr Leslie said students at CAPS were encouraged to make a commitment.
“We want our kids to have 90 per cent attendance and if they have 90 per cent attendance we know that they’re going to improve, they’re not going to go backwards,” he said.
“We are an independent school, and we don’t have the same resources as other schools, but we still want to give our kids the very best opportunities they can have so they can go out and make a difference and go on to university and become scientists and become doctors and lawyers and teachers.”
And while retention of teachers has been also been a particular challenge for schools outside of Perth, Allan Alipio said he, for one, was not leaving CAPS in a hurry.
“I plan to stay for more years, I would like to help develop the science programs of the school more, so we have a plan to expand our science lab and everything.”
PHOTO: Students who won a prestigious science award outside their tiny remote Aboriginal school. (Supplied: CAPS)