For Michelle Walker and the team at Jindi Woraback Children's Centre, being named National Early Childhood Service of the Year is thrilling for so many reasons. Of course they feel honoured for having their hard work recognised, proud that they've realised their vision of being named Australia's best, but also empowered and motivated by the knowledge that their unique program will receive the attention it deserves.
This is a team who are driven and focussed on the needs and wellbeing of all children and particularly on children with special needs. Their special needs program is embedded into the service and a therapist is employed full time to support children and families.
The educators at Jindi completely embrace the concept that every moment is a teachable moment and thrive on creating stories and extending upon even the smallest things. Even the announcement of the award and presenting the trophies became the impetus for an extended learning opportunity.
Michelle explained, "Whenever we have a big announcement to make or an event, we have a fire drill. It helps get everyone together, but it also teaches the children that a fire drill isn't a bad thing and helps them learn in these situations to keep calm. So when we returned from the Awards in Sydney we ran a fire drill and explained to the children that we were 'number 1 in Victoria'. They were so excited by that, and then we said 'guess what happened next?' and told them we were also 'number 1 in Australia'."
The trophies were handed around amongst the children who enjoyed knowing they were part of the 'number 1 service in Australia'. Families called the centre in the days afterwards to congratulate the team on the news, delighted by the fact that their children had told them about the win and the trophies.
The concept of trophies and winning was extended upon in one of the rooms, where they spent time talking about trophies and what they meant; the trophies stayed in this room and became part of a whole learning story, with the children being individually photographed with the trophies.
For Jindi, this national award is the result of a coordinated effort by the whole team of staff who worked together on the submission and presentation to the judges. Even parents contributed to the presentation and were wholly supportive of the team in ensuring that all aspects of Jindi would be presented to the judging panel.
Winning the national award was the culmination of three years of having a go. Jindi won the Victorian Service of the Year award in 2011 and again in 2013. The national title seemed elusive but the team didn't give up and were finally successful in 2015.
Michelle was heavily invested emotionally in the service's submission, so by the time they returned from the Awards Event in Sydney she was exhausted. The whole team of 40 staff will be having a celebratory dinner in the next couple of weeks.
Big plans are afoot for using the $5000 grant from Catholic Super to support their special needs program. Staff will attend Melbourne's first ever Autism Health and Wellbeing Expo, undertake training in Applied Behaviour Analysis and attend a seminar on autism by Professor Temple Grandin.
The team is also planning to re-use a current workroom to develop a sensory room at the service. They're busy creating a wish list for this exciting new space that they'll be able to fulfil using their $1000 Educational Experience prize.
For further information about Jindi Woraback Children's Centre, see their website here.