This week I had the pleasure of visiting Kalgoorlie. Kalgoorlie is a small town of 30, 000 people located 600 km east of Perth, my first time visiting the Australian Outback. To get there we rented a vehicle and set out driving on the left side of the road. The drive was straight and flat with many kangaroos and emus who had met unfortunate ends on such a busy highway. The view was of low brush and shrubs mixed in with taller trees, all growing from red dirt.
The first school we visited was the School of the Air. This is a base station to connect students from K-6 who live in very remote areas of the Australian Outback to teachers and learning staff. Students receive term packages with all the resources they will need for that term, this includes novels, booklets, art supplies, math manipulatives, and even science equipment, the students then return the package along with their completed work at the end of the term. Every morning students ‘attend’ an online meeting that begins with the school’s catchy and official song. Students and teachers interact through microphones and by digitally raising their hands to indicate they would like to speak. All comments conclude with a cheeky “over!”. Throughout the morning students attend lessons with their teachers, whether this be social studies or even music. The afternoon is spent working on assignments.
I was very curious about life for the students who live so remotely, I quickly learned how they create fun learning spaces and communities in their homes. Most students live at base camps, which are large farms, someone described them as similar to North American Ranches. The distances from Kalgoorlie range from 2 hours to over 14 hours away. Students often have school rooms located within their homes and wear school uniforms (a polo shirt) on the weekdays to help separate their home and school life. A live-in tutor, sometimes one of their parents, attend a week-long training session at the beginning of each term to learn how to support students and stay in contact with teachers. To build community students still participate in dress up days and attend camp. Camp happens at the end of the term where all students stay in dorms in Kalgoorlie and spend time interacting and learning with their peers and teachers. Teachers also spend week long visits at students’ homes where they check in and support learning as well as build relationships and start to understand each student's unique world. The School of the Air and it’s students have found the key to overcoming distance.