Cultural ties deliver enriching educational experiences

Notre Dame students Melanie Zaharopoulos and Porschia Dickey took part in the Tjuntjuntjara immersion program through the School of Education.

25 September 2015

Ten pre-service teachers from The University of Notre Dame Australia have gained a new perspective on their future professions after a trip to one of Australia’s most remote Aboriginal communities.

Students and staff from Notre Dame's School of Education, Fremantle, recently spent a week at the Tjuntjuntjara Remote Community School in Western Australia as part of a service-learning immersion program which has grown over the past three years.

This immersion program is an additional experience over and above the formal 32 weeks of practicum that all Notre Dame Education students are required to undertake as part of their degree.

Tjuntjuntjara is located in the Great Victorian Desert roughly 1400km east of Perth. Students and staff need to take a train to Kalgoorlie and then a 600km four-wheel drive trek towards the Northern Territory border to reach the Aboriginal community of 160 people.

Whilst in the community, students and staff did everything from installing a new playground including soft fall sand, painting classroom doors, and cleaning out the sports and garden sheds to assisting with IT issues and sorting library books.

Daniel Havelberg, Principal of Tjuntjuntjara Remote Community School, said the visiting students gained a valuable insight into understanding and being aware of the cultural, physical, professional and personal rewards and challenges that come with remote teaching.

"The opportunity for pre-service teachers to experience and have exposure to the rewards and challenges of teaching in a remote context is extremely valuable. The pre-service teachers are able to spend time in the classrooms with students, talk to teachers and explore and learn about the community here in Tjuntjuntjara," Mr Havelberg said.

Melanie Zaharopoulos, an Education student who visited Tjuntjuntjara, says experiencing the community's connection to their land and cultural traditions has enriched her passion for teaching.

"Having the opportunity to see a whole different way of teaching to cater for the needs of the children in the community opened my eyes to the real meaning of dedication," Melanie said.

Since the birth of her daughter last year, Melanie says she has acquired a greater understanding of how important it is for future generations to understand the true meaning of service-learning.

"To me, service-learning is not only about how much you give to a person or people, but the feeling you get once you have helped another. I found the true meaning of service-learning while in Tjuntjuntjarra as I was given the opportunity to help the school and place a smile on the faces of those in the community," she said.

Experiences, stories and other programs such as this will be shared at the School of Education Service-learning Conference to be held at the University's Fremantle Campus on 27-28 November 2015.

With the Conference theme of: 'To give is to receive: True service-learning', guests will have the opportunity to gain insights to service-learning initiatives delivered by schools, universities and not-for-profit organisation from Australia and across the world.

Dr Glenda Cain, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education and Co-Coordinator of the Conference, said this inaugural Service-learning Conference at Notre Dame will celebrate the diversity of experiences that are undertaken to improve the lives of others whilst acknowledging the reciprocity of such events.

"Everyone interested in service-learning is welcome to attend. The Conference program is on the website and highlights the wide variety of presentations from those passionate about service-learning," Dr Cain said.

For more information and to register online, please visit

Apply direct for 2016 –

Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093;