Moulden Park Primary School adopts proactive, hands-on approach boosts attendance by 10pc

This school had difficulty getting some children to school at the beginning and end of terms, but it’s increased attendance by 10 per cent in just one term.

Moulden Park Primary School staff patrol the suburbs in a borrowed bus for the first and last fortnight of the term to make sure every student can get to school.

The bus is filled with sandwiches and fruit donated by the Rotary, along with spare school uniforms and shoes to ensure a safety net for local families.

A dedicated team of staff target students who aren’t at school when the morning bell rings and no journey is too much trouble.

For Weiba Wanambi, the bus journey is vital during the Top End’s oppressively humid build-up season, when leaving the house is a chore in itself.

Weiba’s favourite part of the journey is talking to her friend and fellow passenger Mia Dhurrkay.

But it also means grandmother Lilian Nawia doesn’t have a hot 2-kilometre walk, twice a day.

“It’s helping grandparents like us, with no transport, to take them to school,” she said.

Grandmother Susan Morris said she would struggle without the bus to get her grandson Kai to school.

“Instead of doing two drop-offs, the bus comes and I just have to do one drop-off,” she said.

“I hope it stays as it is, picking the kids up — people that need the help.”

Hail to the bus driver
Bus driver Jenny Grundel works in the school’s library and also serves the breakfast club and delivers emergency meals and snacks to hungry children all day.

She’s a staff member of 22 years at the school and loves her job.

“Sometimes living with grandparents makes it difficult for the grandparents to try and bring the children [to school],” Ms Grundel said.

“So, we go and say hello, check-in, see how they’re going. [And ask] would they like a lift to school.

“We see them smiling when they see the bus coming, and that’s a really good thing. It makes us feel as though we’re doing the right thing for them.

“I just look forward to seeing them happy to be coming to school.

“The kids are good fun. I love helping them out.”

Making a measurable difference
In term 3, week 1, the school’s attendance data was low and only 63.3 per cent of students turned up at school.

But by week 9, after the bus initiative was introduced, attendance had increased to 76.8 per cent.

The dynamo behind the program is assistant principal Sylvia Gregory.

She says while the bus collects 10 children each day, on average, its presence acts as a wake-up call and generates attendance enthusiasm among other families.

“Missing just one day [of school] per week over a child’s 13 years of schooling means they will miss a total of 2.5 years [of education],” Ms Gregory said.

“Every day counts. We need to make sure that all our students are coming to school.

“And if there are any barriers, we’ll make sure that we can help support families because it is important that they’re here.”

Ms Gregory says the school supports families to overcome any obstacles that might prevent students from accessing an education.

“If there are any needs, we’ll help them address those. Do they need uniforms or food? Or if there’s a scary dog in the street. We can help,” she said.

“If they don’t have shoes, or if they’ve forgotten their lunch, we’ll provide that as well.

“We’ll find whatever barriers, we’ll work with the families to ensure that they can come to school.”

And Ms Gregory says the collaborative approach is working.

“The families are really receptive and are calling us in the morning to say that they may need some help catching the bus,” she said.

“And most families are taking this opportunity to help with their circumstances.”

Minister tick of approval
The school is in the Drysdale electorate of Education Minister Eva Lawler, who says the bus service makes accessing school more achievable for some families.

“We know it’s a bit hotter at the moment in the build-up,” she said.

“So for kids, [the bus means] they don’t have to ride a bike or they don’t have to walk to school.

“We don’t want any excuses for kids not going to school. This is another way of doing that.”

As a further incentive, students with attendance rates above 80 per cent are rewarded with being able to use the school’s 3D printer.