“This completes us,” Principal Greg Miller reflected as the community of St Luke’s Catholic College celebrated the opening of Arrunga, an on-site high support learning setting welcoming students with a diagnosis of moderate intellectual disability as a primary disability and low adaptive functioning.
To begin with, Arrunga will serve a small number of students from Kindergarten to Year 6. This important service will grow over time to meet the needs of secondary students also. Founded in 2017, St Luke’s Catholic College serves the growing community of Marsden Park in Sydney’s thriving North-West growth area.
“It’s really hard to find a school like this, especially in this area, or even outside the area,” says Angela Vrbesic, mother of Arrunga student Luka.
For the Vrbesic family, the opportunity for Luka to be part of the same learning community as his brother, who is already a student at St Luke’s, means a lot.
“He likes to copy his brother and that’s a big part of how he learns so it’s so nice having them here together,” Angela said.
Angela also loves the focus on developing life skills, and supporting students to maximise their potential.
“I know he’s going to be looked after and cared for and that he’ll get everything he needs here at Arrunga.”
Andrew and Christina Cha were so proud to see their son Rohan prepare for his first day at Arrunga.
“The fact that he put on his uniform and got his school bag ready this morning was a really big moment for us, we can see that he’s ready. It’s such a great start,” they said.
“He was a bit nervous. It was maybe a little bit daunting but seeing so many teachers there to welcome him just made him feel really good.”
Leading Teacher Catherine Goodwill was really excited to welcome students to Arrunga for the first time.
“This morning there were a lot of happy faces. It’s going to take a little time for the children to get into a routine, to meet and get to know new friends,” Catherine acknowledged.
“These are beautiful children and it’s our job to make sure they’re looked after, that they’re catered for and that they’re learning and provided with a good education. Their safety and their happiness is paramount. The parents have been absolutely amazing.”
Arrunga is a Darug word meaning ‘in harmony’. A purpose-built learning environment which promotes a personalised approach to the needs and adjustments required by students, it will be completed later in 2021. To begin with, several modular classrooms provide outstanding temporary facilities for the first Arrunga students.
“We’re all different, we’re all diverse. Whether it be education differences, learning differences, cultural or language differences, it’s up to all of us to learn from each other. It’s not always a learning experience simply for the students at Arrunga, it’s the community that is learning really good skills: to be more accepting, to be more patient – it’s a changing world we live in.” – Catherine Goodwill, Leading Teacher, St Luke’s Arrunga School
Similar Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta settings, Wiyanga, located at St Patrick’s Marist College, Dundas and Kirinari at Xavier Catholic College, Llandilo, enrol students from Years 7 to 12. If you would like to learn more about Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta high support learning settings, please visit https://www.parra.catholic.edu.au/Our-Schools/High-Support-Learning-Centres
If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about enrolment at St Luke’s Arrunga School, Kirinari or Wiyanga, please contact Mrs Alma George by phone on 0407 233 622 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Learning from students with disability
In my early days as a teacher, students with a disability were (at best) sidelined and at worst, ignored. They were hidden from view, and so were their needs, especially when it came to learning. I’m thankful those days are over but Australian families are telling us loud and clear that we need to do more.
Schools that meet the needs of all students tend to have great partnerships with parents. I have such respect and admiration for the parents and carers of children and young people with a disability. They’re incredible advocates, not just for the needs of their own kids but for others too!
We also need a great team backing students at a school level. This means classroom teachers are supported in their work by other staff, often including teacher’s aides, school counsellors and relevant allied health professionals. Making sure that all schools have the resources to set up their students for success is not negotiable and neither is appropriate government funding.
There’s a lot to learn from listening to students, especially those who are heard less often, and most when what we hear is tough news. If some students aren’t supported to join in at school, what is that teaching all students about community?
All schools should take pride in understanding and accepting the needs of every student. This means asking schools to think again and think more about how we support kids with disability in their learning and wellbeing. When any student misses out, our schools and community miss out.
Gregory B Whitby AM KSG
Diocese of Parramatta
This article was originally featured in the Lent and Easter/Autumn 2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.