School building the perfect mob
At Hymba Yumba in Springfield a different approach to education is having significant, even life-changing, results
HYMBA Yumba was unlike every other highachieving independent school I have ever visited. To begin with, the 280 students are not called students but jarjums, an Aboriginal word for children. And is it not uncommon to find a well-behaved labrador or two sitting in a classroom with the jarjums. Each morning the dogs join humans in a sit-down “yarning circle” that finishes with students bowing their heads and closing their eyes in a meditation session.
The students at Hymba Yumba at Springfield, south of Brisbane, were assigned by an outside firm to train dogs for the disabled, especially the blind.
“The jarjums seem to develop a special relationship with the dogs,” said principal Peter Foster, a former state basketballer who previously taught at elite Brisbane Grammar and St Peter’s Lutheran College before accepting the job as principal at Hymba Yumba.
There was a surprise element to the “dog therapy”, Foster said. The animals reciprocate to the kindness shown to them.
The dogs somehow recognise children who are having a bad day and sit at their feet. “They sympathise with them. It works.”
Eighty per cent of Hymba Yumba students are Indigenous and they are streets ahead of other Indigenous and nonIndigenous schools in literacy and numeracy. Foster said this was due to “a massive academic program” that worked hand in glove with “a massive wellbeing program”.
Urban Aboriginals are not always aware of their own culture, he said. An education at Hymba Yumba was the “start of the journey” to explore it.
“It’s about understanding who you are and where your mob is from,’’ he said.
Foster’s deputy Tammy Baarat, a Darug woman (pictured), said the wellness programs taught jarjums to respect their parents, their community, their country and themselves.
The programs helped stem bad behaviour. Years ago, one student arrived with so much pent-up anger she tore a classroom door from its hinges. She is now a top scholar.
“Wellness is a prerequisite for academic success,” Baarat said.
While Indigenous schools throughout the country generally struggle with absenteeism, the opposite is true at Hymba Yumba.
“They beg us to keep the school open in the holidays,” Foster said. “They are disappoint ed when we tell them the teachers are tired and need a break.”
Jarjums in Years 11 and 12 are studying tertiary subjects that will help them fast track their entry into law, business and education at the University of Southern Queensland.
Foster and Baarat say Hymba Yumba will one day sit alongside The Kings School and Cranbrook on the list of the nation’s top 50 academic schools.
Next week students and teachers begin moving into a new $3.5 million STEM building for the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathemati cs. balcony in the new building, he excitedly waves his arm towards the bushland and a carpark he says will be the site of a multi-level visual and performing arts centre to cost $5m. In the other direction he points to an oval he says will become a
Hymba Yumba rugby league academy.
The school is expanding and will have places for an extra 120 students by 2023. It is part of Springfield’s socalled learning coalition of 11 state and private schools that collaborate on everything from dance and arts festivals to orchestral concerts and sporting contests. This was the brainchild of Springfield corporation chairman Maha Sinnathamby, who wants to foster kinship between students of diverse backgrounds. His aim is to turn Springfield into a brain city, or Australia’s Silicon Valley.
Des Houghton is a media consultant and a former editor of The Courier-Mail, the Sunday Mail and the Sunday Sun.