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Interview with a principal: Lisa Wilson, River Nile School

Ben Conway

At Compass we think about teachers all the time. Really: when we get to work each week day morning, our focus is on developing solutions to make teachers’ lives simpler. For World Teachers’ Day 2020, we wanted to take a little bit of time to highlight just how essential the role of teaching is in our society. After all, our fundamental belief that every child deserves a great education would not be possible without great teachers.

There are many examples we could choose from, but one story seems particularly fitting for us this year. In early 2019, Compass partnered with the River Nile School (RNS). Located a short walk away from Melbourne’s bustling Queen Victoria Market, RNS is a small school with a huge amount of ambition. Only a few years ago it was the River Nile Learning Centre, based in a church hall in Footscray. An educational David in a world of Goliaths, RNS achieved school status two and a half years ago, and now staff teach over 70 of the community’s most vulnerable young women.

Principal Lisa Wilson is clear about the challenges the school faces. Staff work at the intersection of trauma-informed practice, English as an Additional Language (EAL), and primary and secondary education; each student comes with a complex story, requiring teachers who are equipped not only to teach, but address unique wellbeing requirements. This is a skill staff have been able to develop further through participation in Berry Street Education Model training, a program designed to address the fact that school’s like RNS require specialised strategies to deal with wellbeing - and ultimately deliver success.

In the face of these potential difficulties, staff at RNS deliver a curriculum that is expansive in scope, while addressing the day-to-day issues that new migrants to Australia must be equipped to deal with. Topics include ‘Health and Wellbeing’ and ‘Identity and Belonging’, and the school recently won an award for their work on sustainability - an example of a topical issue designed to make learning engaging and fresh. Students are given the tools the need to thrive in the world of work, while being encouraged to express themselves creatively: each year, for example, RNS holds an exhibition of artwork produced by students.

The results of this well-rounded approach to teaching are clear. Lisa mentions former students who have gone on to work or study in a wide variety of areas, from aged care to accountancy. More than that, staff at the school have watched students grow in confidence considerably, ready to face life in a new, unfamiliar country - often alone - without fear. It's that sense of each individual's growth at RNS that Lisa says is among the most rewarding things about the school.

If you're interested in supporting the school, it's possible to make a donation or even volunteer - why not get involved?

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