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West Wallsend students honoured as outstanding leaders

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Inspirational West Wallsend High School pupils Ashlee Dawson and Ryan Wood certainly have bright futures ahead of them.

The youngsters were announced as joint recipients of the Outstanding Student Leadership Award at the 18th annual Nanga Mai Awards, which took place at the International Convention and Exhibition Centre at Darling Harbour this week.

It’s worthy recognition for their exceptional contribution to Aboriginal education.

The pair, who delivered the 2023 keynote student address at the ceremony, was among 13 academically successful pupils, including Kotara South Public’s Tygah Green (Year 6), confident public speakers, talented performing artists and elite sportspeople to be honoured in front of their peers.

Ashlee is a proud Kamilaroi woman and an inspiring driving force to a culturally inclusive landscape at West Wallsend High.

Her sense of integrity and qualities of kindness and care have given her a powerful voice and agency as a school leader.

This has been amplified in her role as 2023 School Captain and founding Junior AECG CoPresident, with Ryan, where she used her leadership platform to collaborate alongside staff, students and community stakeholders to benefit everyone at West Wallsend High, creating meaningful and impactful change.

Her colleague is an exceptional young Bunjalung man who has helped drive the cultural landscape, too.

Ryan was also 2023 School Captain and proudly embraces his Aboriginal heritage.

He is a passionate and inspiring advocate for his contemporaries and community.

A key achievement was his presentation at the Term 2 Staff Development Day with Ashlee.

Together, they independently planned, developed and delivered a highly-engaging session to more than 100 staff, which provided a powerful and informed perspective on Aboriginal culture and identity.

Meanwhile, Toronto Public principal Kim Witt also received an acknowledgement, along with 11 other dedicated teachers, community leaders and schools.

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Prue Car said NSW public schools worked to enhance and elevate Aboriginal culture and identity through education.

“I want to send a big congratulations to all the hardworking teachers, school leaders and students being honoured at the Nanga Mai Awards,” she stated.

NSW Department of Education secretary Murat Dizdar agreed.

“The awards recognise pupils, staff and community members who demonstrate excellence across all areas of education, from academic achievement, performing arts and public speaking, through to sport and leadership,” he said.

“There was an outstanding number of nominations in 2023.

“From talented young scholars, dancers and athletes to staff who work tirelessly for their schools and communities, I commend the leadership, creativity and excellence demonstrated by the winners.

“The Nanga Mai Awards continue to show that strong community partnerships, dedicated personnel and targeted, culturally appropriate programs are integral to the success and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in NSW public schools.”

Other Newcastle-Hunter award recipients

Outstanding Student Leadership Award

  • Tygah Green – Year 6, Kotara South Public School

Tygah has a profound connection to her culture and unwavering commitment to fostering Aboriginal heritage.

Her dedication to promoting Aboriginal culture has significantly enriched her school community, making it more visible and accessible to her teachers and peers and creating a more inclusive and diverse learning environment.

Tygah’s passion is infectious and has sparked interest and understanding among those around her.

She filled the role of school Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Minister during its inaugural year and exemplified exceptional leadership.

Tygah’s guidance is underpinned by a strong sense of integrity and pride, which resonates in every facet of her engagement within the school community.

Outstanding Leadership in Aboriginal Education Award

  • Kim Witt – Principal, Toronto Public School

Kim’s passion towards reconciliation has had a profound impact on Toronto Public School.

She thinks creatively about new ways to nurture genuine partnerships, build cultural competence and open pathways towards resolution.

Kim led the development of the school’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), making Toronto Public the first school with a RAP in western Lake Macquarie.

She’s responsive to community voice and has transformed the school’s physical environment, promoting a culturally safe space.

Her leadership extends to the Toronto Learning Community, advocating for the critical role that schools play in shaping Australia’s journey towards reconciliation.

She has worked with the Toronto Public Aboriginal Education Team, AECG, Elders and Land Council to initiate a yearly Reconciliation Walk, with more than 1,500 students across four preschools, seven primary and two high schools participating.

Kim demonstrates a genuine commitment to improving educational outcomes for Aboriginal students and contributing to a more just, inclusive and equitable future.

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