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Gateway Learning Community – Child Mental Health and Wellbeing Champions

Carolyn Wilson and Kelly O’Shea driving the Gateway Learning Community initiative In 2018, the Gateway Learning Community (GLC) of schools identified a need to do transition to school differently. The six partner primary schools recognised a shift was required to support the complex learning and support needs of incoming kindergarten children. The combined schools committed to work together, to be proactive in their solution, and to engage the community in a universal change process. A whole-of-community approach was required so that all children could be provided optimal transitions. Early school success was impacted by increasingly complex and higher numbers of children presenting with developmental concerns, delays in skill acquisition, diagnosed and undiagnosed disabilities. The provision of additional support for our early learners was obstructed by limited referral information and time constraints, resulting in significant delays in planning, accessing of resources, delivery of interventions, and in building positive relationships with children and families. This was causing unnecessary hardship, frustration, and challenge. Schools and families were feeling under-prepared and overwhelmed. It was also found that more work was required to support children, families, and services to confidently engage in transition to school referral and support processes. Inconsistent and limited connections to schools, misinformation, difficulties accessing community, health, and therapeutic supports for young children were all affecting successful engagement. This meant higher numbers of children and families were experiencing unnecessary disadvantage and missing out on opportunities to work together, to build capacity, prior to starting school. In Term 4 2018, a proposal was trialled across the Gateway Learning Community of schools with the introduction of the pro-active school-based community role, known as the Transition Support Teacher – Early Years. This pre-emptive, cross-sector position was engaged to work with staff and families across children’s and community services, and schools. The focus was on supporting optimal transitions through early identification and support planning processes. The role initiates and leads contact with children and families through links with local children’s and community services, to create connections, build relationships, and strengthen transition pathways. The emphasis is on “Working Together” to build capacity and create shared success. The initiative has been recognised by the 2020 Secretary’s Awards for Excellence, through securement of a 3-year Fair Education funding grant, and through its successful introduction across Kurri Kurri and Cessnock schools. Carolyn Wilson is Gateway Learning Community’s Assistant Principal Transition Support Teacher-Early Years and Kelly O’Shea the Lead Principal of the project. We had the privilege of providing training for educators of the partnership schools and Carolyn shared with us GLC’s commitment and goals; ‘We continue to strive to deliver, community-responsive transition supports that foster links across services and sectors and provide optimal outcomes for our YP. Creating the space for our ECE and school educators to engage in shared TPL and collegial practice is but one of the ways that we are trying to achieve this.” ”Our goal has always been to create a sustainable model of service and a suite of supports that other schools, and communities of schools, could adapt and adopt to meet the contextualised needs of their transitioning kindergarten students, families, and community partners.” ”The target is, to better the outcomes for our early learners by creating connections, building relationships and sustainable partnerships, to strengthen transition pathways. The focus is on working together to share the responsibility of embedding key elements of quality transitions programs through enhanced collegial practice across Pre-K.” ”We are hopeful that more Local Management Groups will see the value of having a dedicated “grass-roots” transition role (TST-EY), funded like the GLC , Kurri & Cessnock, utilising combined school resources, that can be reflexive and responsive to community context and to delivering better outcomes for our early learners through early identification, referral and collaborative planning processes.” We hope so too Caz!