While the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic put restrictions on movements in and out of far north Queensland, in other ways, it brought new opportunities within reach for those in the area.

Communities in the Cape York Peninsula were closed off from the outside world in the early months of 2020 as part of a bio-security bubble in an effort to protect remote Aboriginal communities from the virus.

At the time the world was adapting to a new reality, with businesses such as dance schools switching to offering online classes in order to continue operating.

Principal of the Hope Vale campus of Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy Glenn White told the National Indigenous Times this gave the children at the school their first opportunity to take part in ballet classes.

The closest ballet classes on offer previously would have likely been in Cairns, a four hour drive away.

“There was an opportunity for ballet lessons to be taught online and I guess our community expressed that our kids don’t really get exposed enough to extra curricular activities such as dancing and things like that,” he said.

 

Mr White’s wife and fellow teacher at the school Kiriana White organised the ballet lessons for prep students which are done through zoom, with a qualified ballet teacher on the screen and her assisting the kids as the class takes place in the classroom.

Mr White said participating in the classes which culminated in an end of year performance had brought a lot of excitement to the young students taking part and he hopes to continue the classes into the future.

“They’ve loved it its something that the young girls look forward to and get into and aspire to and hopefully continue to grow,” he said.

“The dream would be by the time they go onto year six that they’re pretty proficient ballet dancers.”

The Hope Vale campus has about 120 students in total and services a region which is home to 13 clan groups who mostly speak Guugu Yimithirr and related languages.

“Kids shouldn’t be restricted by their geographical location, kids in remote Australia should have the same opportunities as city kids.”

The Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy has schools in two remote Aboriginal communities which cater for prep to year 6.

They teach using what’s called a ‘direct and explicit instruction’ model which covers the relevant Australian curriculum.

“What that means is a lot more explicit instruction in the way that classes are delivered and through that it helps kids retain information a lot better,” Mr White said.

“It’s a very I do, we do, you do model in the way we approach things.”

He said it was a community decision to adopt this approach to learning for their children since the schools opened about a decade ago.

“We’ve made big gains in our attendance, which have improved by about 10 per cent, Hope Vale traditionally sat at about low to mid 70s and now we’re consistently at 85 per cent, sometimes getting into the 90 per cent attendance rate,” Mr White said.

“Academically, now our kids are working at grade level and some even above grade level just through the explicit teaching, it is working to close the gap.”

By Aleisha Orr