KU Difference Awards - Image panel_2013

Making The KU Difference

Each year, KU acknowledges individual excellence and joint endeavour within our services and programs by presenting the Making the KU Difference Awards.

In 2015, the Making the KU Difference awards were presented to the following staff and teams:

  • KU Chatswood Community Preschool Staff The KU Marcia Burgess Award
  • Nellie Hodda, KU ANSTO Children's Centre for making the KU Difference for children
  • KU Wonnayba Children's Centre Staff for making the KU Difference for families
  • Soraya Apps, KU ISA Manager, NSW South West for making the KU Difference for the community
  • Karen Hugo, KU Mayfield Preschool for making the KU Difference for staff
  • KU Corrimal East Preschool Staff for making the KU Difference through quality
  • Nicole Farrelly, KU Castlecrag Preschool for making the KU Difference through sustainability
  • KU Petersham Preschool Staff for making the KU Difference through innovation
  • KU Koala Preschool, KU Kookaburra Preschool, KU Kingfisher Preschool and KU Kangaroo Preschool Staff for making the KU Difference by representing KU

More information about each of these awards is included below.

Marcia Burgess Award

This award is a perpetual award and is given in the honour of Marcia Burgess, Manager Special Education who retired from KU in 2006 and passed away in 2007. To honour Marcia, this award is given to an individual or a team of people who demonstrate a strong commitment to vulnerable children and families or children with additional needs.

We are pleased to announce that this year's award is being presented to:

  • KU Chatswood Community Preschool Staff

The KU Chatswood Community team have demonstrated their commitment and dedication to the inclusion of children from 27 different cultural backgrounds and those with additional needs that include profound behavioural disorders.

The educators work conscientiously to bring the families together to foster relationships and a sense of community within the preschool. The children and families have complex needs and the team have developed programs to lessen the fragility they may feel. The educators with, Deb Watson as a mentor, styled their Orientation program to the families individual language needs reducing barriers and enabling families to feel included. This work has been documented through Action Research and will benefit all centres who have a broad community of cultural backgrounds.

The team display their commitment to the inclusion of additional needs children by never giving up, working to find a pathway for additional needs children to have opportunity to be a part of the preschool community. They consistently connect with other agencies and utilise resources within KU to support and assist their work. With the extreme behaviours the team have collaborated to alter timetables, routines, and their methods of supervision and other aspects of program delivery to enable all children within the environment to be included and enjoy their day.

Congratulations to the team as they continue to keep alive the vision of Marcia Burgess's commitment to vulnerable children and families.

Making the KU Difference for Children

Whilst there is no disputing that the early years are perhaps the most influential time in a child's development and education, the value of educators with specialist expertise in working with very young babies has been gaining increased recognition in more recent times.

In the 2 years since KU ANSTO opened its doors, Nellie has demonstrated her passion for, and commitment to, working with infants and toddlers, building strong secure relationships not only with her team, but with the children and families when they are perhaps at their most vulnerable stage. During that time, she has established herself as a leader, not only within the centre, but also within our professional network.

Nellie has introduced and implemented the practices of Magda Gerber's ‘educaring' approach, or RIE, within the nursery. Her enthusiasm for the RIE approach and how beneficial it is for infants and toddlers has been infectious and the RIE approach is something the whole team now feel strongly about.

Having participated in every infant and toddler workshop and professional community KU has offered, along with her team, Nellie also attended the RIE foundations course in Sydney, and a RIE conference in the United States.

Nellie has worked with the nursery team to continually improve practice, and implement new and better ways of improving the experience for infants and toddlers at KU ANSTO. She has also shared her knowledge at a regional meeting and at staff meetings at the centre.

The enormous benefit of Nellie's work for the infants and toddlers at KU ANSTO is clearly evident, as the children are truly respected, and strong relationships between children and educators continue to grow.

Making the KU Difference for Families

KU received multiple award nominations for the KU Wonnayba team, however they are primarily being recognised for the way in which they responded to, and supported families through a crisis situation at the centre.

KU Wonnayba is situated on the grounds of the University of Newcastle. In March this year, a water main burst in the playground, flooding the building. Whilst the staff managed the immediate danger admirably, it was the actions they took to deal with the 9 week-long closure of the service that followed, that are truly exceptional.

In an enormous coordination effort, the Director and Admin Assistant were able to organise the relocation of over 50% of the families to the two nearest KU services; KU Kintaiba and Kooinda, and also redeployed staff there to ensure consistency for children and a familiar face for families.

Regular contact was maintained with families, and any additional positions were allocated on a needs basis.

The centre's office was also relocated to the University's Facilities Department building for the duration of the closure, so staff were effectively operating the centre from three locations.

All the staff at KU Wonnayba worked tirelessly to support the families, and ultimately move back into their own centre more than two months later.

The staff's commitment to ensuring that the children and families who were dispersed to other centres remained connected was invaluable. At each centre the children also worked on a project that articulated the flood and how that impacted upon the service. When the children were able to come back to Wonnayba their project was combined to showcase the whole experience, and also turned into a banner for display at professional learning events.

Making the KU Difference for the Community

Soraya has been the Manager of the NSW South West Inclusion Support Agency for the last 9 years. She manages a very large geographical area, within which educators in services can often feel isolated and unsupported.

Soraya manages a small team, who are not all based in the same office, and manages the complex and competing needs of her team, services and the Agency's obligations under the ISA contract across this large region.

Soraya has developed strong links and relationships throughout the different communities in her region, and has found innovative ways to bring educators together to increase their understanding about inclusion. She encourages a great deal of networking, collaboration and capacity building within those communities. The Inclusion Support Agency organises service visit evenings each year where over 160 educators come together, visiting each other's services and sharing ideas and innovation.

This year, Soraya and her team organised a ‘BIG DAY OUT' for OOSH services, that was planned through an OOSH network group established by the ISA. The event was designed for children to participate in a range of community activities, such as AFL, Fencing, Drumming, Boxing, Hip Hop and recycled craft. The event was also attended by the local Member of Parliament, further promoting the work of the Inclusion Support Agency.

With a small team and such a large region, Soraya seems to manage the impossible. She, and consequently KU, are well known and requested in services, through other agencies and across the community as a result of her outstanding work.

Making the KU Difference for Staff

Karen was been nominated for this award by her own team. The staff at the preschool describe her as a wonderful leader, who empowers the whole team to deliver the preschool's popular, and ‘Exceeding' rated program.

Karen is a calm, caring and empathetic individual who operates in the same generous fashion whether she is communicating with a child, parent or a staff member. She is compassionate, always making staff feel supported and genuinely cared for. Karen is a realistic manager as she herself balances her work life with family life, and she accepts that family comes first. She is appreciative of everything any staff member does and uses her ability to be constructive and positive whenever she feels staff could consider a different approach, or need to reflect.

Karen inspires the staff to actively develop and grow as educational professionals, and has led the staff to complete KU Research Projects so the team can be advocates, and create a ‘voice' in the sector.

Karen's warmth, humour and fun encourage the culture of wonder and curiosity which is needed to collaborate with the children. She has developed the KU Mayfield team based on qualities such as respect, laughter and support, and this is felt by every family who walks through the door.

Karen is an exceptional example of the leadership KU expects and aspires toward amongst our Directors. It is no wonder that KU Mayfield is a happy, thriving early childhood environment with impeccably high standards, and a strong local reputation.

Making the KU Difference through Quality

This award recognises the work of the team at KU Corrimal East, in shaping exceptional pedagogy and practice at the preschool over a ten year period. Since 2005 the team have committed to continuous improvement and the provision of exceptional education and care for children which has resulted in the team becoming the first ever KU centre to be awarded the National Quality Standard's ‘Excellent' rating.

The team have aligned their approach with the Circle of Security and Attachment theories influencing practice and involvement of children and families. And provided a sustained learning approach. Supporting this collaboration has been the involvement with research institutes and other organisations where the educators, children and families have been able to engage in programs and practices which support the building of rich and deep attachments and relationships.

Using their underpinning knowledge and commitment to inclusive partnerships the team worked with their parents and provided Circle of Security Parenting training. This allows for greater synergy and consistency between the children's time at home and preschool. Also in 2008 the team worked with the Children's Services in the delivery of the Community HUBS and still continues today. The HUBS project worked towards the provision of a range of programs to families in the Corrimal and Bellambi areas. Though this program the team were able to offer the Circle of Security training to a broader audience within their community.

The team have been involved in numerous programs and projects that have provided a focal point for building on attachment and relationships with children, families and communities. KU East Corrimal has worked in partnership with the University of Wollongong in the provision of an exciting academic and community engagement project involving sophisticated teaching, research and community engagement initiatives. The preschool has been involved in KU ELLI, the Early Language and Literacy Initiative; and in KU's Sustainability Project.

Other partnerships include, Wollongong City Council and the Towradgi Park design where the children from the preschool were able to feedback to the council their views on the design of the playground with their voices impacting on the final design. The children were invited to the opening ceremony in celebration of their contribution.

In some ways, it is no wonder that the team at KU Corrimal East have been awarded an Excellent rating. However when it is something that less than 1% of children's services in the country have been able to achieve, it is also nothing short of remarkable.

Making the KU Difference through Sustainability

Nicole has led the team at KU Castlecrag to develop and implement the Bush Connections program, which sees the staff and children explore a bush kinder setting, or Yana Nura, once a fortnight.

This program evolved from a single annual excursion into the neighbouring bushland, to be a regular and integral part of the preschool program.

Children have grown to love and look forward to their day in the bush, to care and protect the environment, and are continually growing to be evermore strong, capable and competent children within their community. As they learn more about their own "bush patch " the children are discovering much more than just what it's like to walk together into the bush and name flora and fauna; they are learning about citizenship, stewardship, relationships and caring for country.

As the project has evolved, and awareness has grown, the preschool program at KU Castlecrag has become increasingly valued by the local community. As well as creating stronger environmentally sustainable practices within these children, the specialist focus area is further increasing the preschool's popularity. This in turn is securing future demand for the preschool and improving the long term financial security of the centre.

Making the KU Difference through Innovation

This award recognises the innovative way the team at KU Petersham have found a way to link the past and future of their service, in a way that exemplifies KU's approach to educational practice and community connection.

In 1952, the centre staff of the time, decided to plant their potted Christmas tree. Over the next sixty years, it grew into an enormous tree which shaded over 60% of the playground. However from time to time it also shed branches, and as a result of safety concerns, the decision was reluctantly made to cut down the tree.

The staff, children and families all felt sad as a result of the place the tree held in everyone's hearts and memories. In response, the team collaborated with Marrickville Council to use the timber from the tree as the basis for a community art project.

The Council tree officers felt excited about this vision for keeping the tree's memory, and place at the preschool alive, and purchased GoPro's for the arborists to wear as they felled the tree.

Past and present children were invited to give the tree a hug, and hear a story the tree whispered to them, which were collected into a book of whispers.

The timber from the tree was sent to the mill for drying and when it is ready, later this year, it will be distributed to local artists who will work with it creating artworks for an art show to be held in a local gallery. The movie of the felling of the tree as well as the children's book of whispers and other artworks undertaken to farewell the tree will also form part of the art show.

KU Petersham commissioned a large piece from the trunk of the tree to be returned as a table top which will be installed on top of the old stump. The official ‘opening' of this table formed part of the preschool's celebrations commemorating KU's 120 Year Anniversary.

Making the KU Difference by Representing KU

Since transferring to KU almost a decade ago, KU Koala Preschool, KU Kookaburra Preschool, KU Kingfisher Preschool and KU Kangaroo Preschool have embraced and upheld the values and ethos of KU, and established an enviable reputation for the KU brand within the Wagga Wagga community; an area where previously KU had no presence at all.

Over the years all four preschools have provided children and families who reside in Wagga, and the surrounding rural areas, high quality educational programs that are reflective of both the individual centre needs, and ‘the KU way'.

As a group the four "K's" (as they are known in Wagga) have enthusiastically accepted every opportunity to participate in programs such as ‘Kids Matter', the Dental Health program, and the Early Start and Jump Start Programs. They have also implemented Circle of Security with Dr Robyn Dolby, Playspaces, Marte Meo and ESDM.

The ongoing commitment of staff to try new ideas and ways of connecting to build strong attachments with children and families is definitely unique and different from what is otherwise being offered in Wagga .

Additionally, the preschool staff have involved themselves in a range of local projects such as having an Artist in Residence, taking children on excursions to TAFE playgroups and visiting the local schools. The centres have also established great working relationships with other local organisations such as early intervention services, Rex Airlines, a local Pottery group and the Men's Shed.

Staff have also been working closely with the Aboriginal Elders of the community.

Together the 4 K's are a great example of how, despite their geographic isolation, services and staff are promoting high quality early education, local community connectedness, and the KU Difference.