Another successful Koorie student showcase

Year 9 student Spencer from Lilydale Heights College with his laser cut design. Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS. 412963_03

By Mikayla van Loon

Another cohort of new and returning students from across the Yarra Valley passed through the Koorie Student Program for 2024 producing an impressive collection of work.

The Yarra Ranges Tech School (YRTS) based program introduces First Nations students to various technologies, inviting them to produce a project of their own, telling of their connection to Country if they choose.

Given the creative freedom to use the variety of technologies available to them, from laser cutting machines to 3D printers, the final projects were put on display on Thursday 13 June.

For YRTS chief executive officer Travis Burroughs, who oversaw his first Koorie Student Program since joining the school late last year, it was incredible to see the growth of the cohort.

“You see the growth and it’s a really positive thing and you see the kids take ownership of the space,” he said.

But he said seeing the showcase and the excitement of the students to present their work to their school teachers and YRTS staff was the best part of the program.

“The kids being proud of their work and having that ability to speak about it, wanting to speak about it. It says a lot about the growth they’ve had and seeing that is pretty inspirational,” Travis said.

First time participant from Lilydale Heights College, Spencer, said only discovering he was Aboriginal a year ago led to his desire to participate in the program this year and he now intends on returning next year.

Producing a laser cut welcome to Country sign, Spencer said began with a few trial runs using the engraver, as well as the standard wording for a traditional welcome.

“So for the first one, I made the design and then put the wording in, I copied that directly from Google, but then I decided I wanted to change the wording and personalise it more towards me and make it my wording so it meant more to who I was,” he said.

In a surprise addition, Spencer’s design was also used on the recognition plaques made by Treasuring Our Trees founder Dave Ferrier, which are handed out to each of the schools as a congratulations for participating in the program.

“I hadn’t actually seen that until they handed them out this morning,” Spencer said on Thursday.

With “tons of new and different skills”, Spencer said he was grateful to have had so many opportunities through the program to explore a range of techniques.

Similarly for Upper Yarra Secondary College students Charlotte, Year 8, and Margherita, Year 10, exploring new skills, outside of their normal interests, was surprisingly enjoyable.

Working with some other students, Margherita helped research and design a computer game intended for young people aged 12 to 15.

“I was helping create a game that’s based on the Frontier Wars. So I was collecting information about what happened so we could add realistic elements into it and informative parts,” she said.

“We chose to do the game because we thought it’d be a good, light hearted way to present information on what happened even though it’s quite a dark topic.”

Margherita said she enjoyed being able to “use creative aspects in our work but still being able to do something that’s going to teach people about Indigenous culture”.

Although taking a different path for her project designing a collection of earrings, sports tops and a totem pole, Charlotte said the tech tasters really helped her narrow down what she wanted to do and “you don’t realise how much you like it until you try it”.

“I liked all the different opportunities, and all the different schools collaborating together, making new friends, and learning of all the different cultural experiences,” she said.

Lilydale District and Yarra Valley Education Plan project manager Brooke Kogelman said this year she and YRTS really wanted the showcase to be student-led, to match the external aims of the education department of giving students a voice.

“It’s all about the students and hearing from them, hearing what they have to say about education and what they want to be seen and what they want to see in their schools,” she said.

“Outside of this program, we run a lot of opportunities for the students to have their voice heard, and give feedback. It can be daunting to share your experiences and to share what you think but we really are proud of them, that they have the courage to do that.”

Seeing the variety year after year and the individuality that is expressed through each design, Brooke said, was incredibly rewarding as someone who was a teacher for 17 years.

“For me having this opportunity to encourage and empower them to come and seeing them come year after year, some are already talking about their projects for next year, which is exciting. It just puts everything back into perspective about why we do what we do,” Brooke said.