When a growing number of First Nations students at Woonona High School began identifying their culture proudly, the school knew their programs were succeeding.
Aboriginal education coordinator, Liz Price, said some of the students originally did not include their Aboriginality in their enrolment forms.
"[They] have recently decided that they do wish to identify," she said.
"So that's how we know that we are building a safe culture of acceptance and we're fostering pride in our Aboriginal students."
While Ms Price held an award for the teacher of the year with a big grin, she insisted it was a group effort.
"Whether the [staff are] part of the Aboriginal team or not, everyone values Aboriginal education. Here it is everyone's business," she said
The Northern Illawarra Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) presents the annual award to a teacher who improves educational outcomes for First Nations students and Aboriginal education for all students.
Ms Price leads the Aboriginal education team at the school and said their measure of success is the student's response.
"What I'm most proud of is when students take on that leadership role themselves, and they actually step up to go: 'Hey we need this'," she said.
From a personalised acknowledgement of country to artworks, the students bring their ideas to Ms Price.
"We've had non-Indigenous students get up and give very moving speeches for Reconciliation Week," she said.
"That's when you know you're effective, when it's not just Aboriginal [students] it's everyone that is on board"
One student led initiative was to design their own senior jersey with artwork which included Aboriginal artwork.
Ms Price regularly met with the two students designing the jerseys over Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Ms Price didn't plan to become a teacher until she tutored First Nations students in the Norta Norta Individual Sponsorship Program, which ceased in 2012.
"It wasn't really until I was doing a little bit of that tutoring that I got an insight into the teaching world and education because I never really had anticipated going into education".
She has been a science teacher for eight years and in the past three years leading Aboriginal education at Woonona High School.
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