Thornbury Primary School (TPS) in Melbourne’s inner north is proudly diverse.
Nearly 50 Aboriginal students from 18 different families attend the school, as do children from a range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Children of LGBTI families, those who are brought up in homecare and children from non-nuclear family structures all call TPS home.
It is the only school in the area to offer a Steiner and mainstream education and is the base for a small group of students from Croxton Specialist School, an education centre for students with specific learning needs associated with an intellectual disability.
This uniqueness gives TPS its vibrant identity, creating opportunities and complexities for both its educators and students.
Previously TPS used KidsMatter as its mental health and wellbeing framework. Several programs were created, however, the school struggled to implement these successfully.
In 2018, principal Leon Bell decided a more holistic approach was required to align all of the school’s wellbeing programs.
They recruited a wellbeing leader, Emma Cornish-Giles, whose first task was to identify a suitable framework to bring structure to the many great initiatives TPS had introduced. This led the school to Be You.
Thornbury Primary School Wellbeing Leader Emma Cornish-Giles
Principal Bell explains why Be You has been the perfect fit for TPS.
“We had a lot of changes in the school’s leadership and there were challenges to bring in all the KidsMatter elements. People got overwhelmed and gave up because it was too much,” he said.
“When the leadership became more stable, we were able to bring in new programs. Then Be You came in and we were like ‘fantastic’, this fits in with our philosophy so well.
“Emma took a leading role in implementing Be You. She’s been able to highlight any gaps in wellbeing and is the link between myself as principal and with the classroom educators."
Thornbury Primary School principal, Leon Bell
Educator wellbeing leads to student wellbeing
After registering with Be You, Emma became the school’s Action Team Leader and established a wellbeing support network and a safe space where educators could go to her for guidance.
The next step was to establish an Action Team, which was renamed the Wellbeing Team, consisting of five other educators who had all put their hands up to help.
Following guidance from Consultant Jen Berthold, the TPS Wellbeing Team used Be You Fact Sheets and other Professional Learning materials to organise individual and group support sessions for educators. These provided an opportunity for educators to discuss best mental health practices with their colleagues and also helped guide them to the most appropriate online resources.
Emma talks about why these sessions were and remain so important.
“We are extremely lucky to have the most amazing group of educators who put their heart and soul into changing the outcomes of the children at Thornbury,” she said.
“Our educators do long hours. Part of my job is to make sure they are OK, and that they have strategies and resources to take care of themselves.
“We’re constantly looking at ways to improve educator wellbeing and that of our student."
Emma Cornish-Giles, Thornbury Primary School Wellbeing Leader
Emma shares a joke with the Be You Action Team at Thornbury Primary School
Speaking the same language
A hugely successful wellbeing program at Thornbury has been a shared emotional language initiative called I’m Deadly. Deadly is the Aboriginal English word meaning 'fantastic’ or ‘awesome’.
Using Be You’s Family Partnership and Mentally Healthy Communities modules for guidance, I’m Deadly language has been embedded into everyday school life along with other Koorie language of the Wurundjeri people.
I’m Deadly behaviours are outlined at the start of each school year by the wellbeing and leadership teams. I’m Deadly language is then taught to educators, who in turn use it in their everyday interactions with students.
Educator and wellbeing team member, Jess Duncan, believes the I’m Deadly program, and embedding shared emotional language, has been vital in creating a culturally safe space for the school’s Aboriginal population.
“There’s a really long history of using Koorie language at TPS because the parents and grandparents of these students were coming to this school too,” she said.
“Most of the Aboriginal students don’t live in the area, they’re driving half an hour or more to get here because this is a safe place for them to come and learn, where they are truly included and connected to the school and the people.”
Thornbury Primary School educator Jess Duncan
ThornburyPrimary School have used the Be You framework to implement a shared emotionallanguage program called I'm Deadly
Indigenous Studies and other wellbeing programs
I’m Deadly was born out of the school’s acclaimed Indigenous Studies program, which also provides an opportunity for all TPS students to study the Koorie language and attend cultural classes with Aunty Terri Lee-Fitzpatrick.
Additionally, the Malpa Young Doctors program teaches children about health and wellbeing with a Koorie focus. An anti-bullying program encourages children to talk to educators about their emotions. And Wayapa is a mental health and wellbeing program that promotes connection to the culture and land of the Wurundjeri people.
The school's hard work on its Indigenous Studies program saw it rewarded in 2019 when they received the Outstanding Koorie Education Award from the Victorian Government.
ThornburyPrimary School students line up before class at the start of the day
Moving forward together
Educator Finley Francois has seen his fair share of changes at TPS in the 16 years he’s been at the school.
He leads the music wellbeing program which aims to create a space where students can channel their emotions and express themselves through instruments. This program works in parallel with the school’s art therapy, gardening and cooking classes.
Although there will be challenges around the corner, he is confident TPS has the resilience to continue its positive progression.
“The place is always moving forward with different ideas. It’s not a stand-still school, which is a lot of work, but keeps the place interesting,” he continued.
“Everyone here is family, this is the cohort of our community. That’s something we’ve grown over a long period of time to create a feeling of safety for children and their families.
“The diversity aids in the creativity as well, the diversity in the culture, the diversity in the demographic. It’s a melting pot, you never quite know what is going to happen, but it’s always a positive thing and one that is well embraced when these new ideas come about.”
The recent stability brought about by the leadership team, as well as the introduction of Be You, has been warmly received by educators and students alike.
With established programs now better aligned with the Be You framework, a wellbeing leader and dedicated wellbeing team providing support across a whole learning community setting, the foundations have been laid for an exciting future.
ThornburyPrimary School students playing basketball on their break