Awabakal Preschool in Wickham has become one of only 49 early childhood services in Australia to receive the highest rating of the National Quality Standard.
Awabakal is the first Aboriginal owned and operated centre in Australia to receive the award, and the focus on indigenous culture has garnered interest from far and wide.
Independent body the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) approved Awabakal’s ‘Excellent’ rating after they were deemed to be exceptional across seven areas of assessment.
The authority’s acting deputy national education leader, Michelle Hilton-Moon, presented the award during a ceremony at the preschool on Thursday.
She said she believes the recognition can help inspire other services.
“It's a very high bar and the criteria's very tough,” Ms Hilton-Moon said.
You could see today, the staff here are so proud, and they should be. It shows what is possible and they need to be really proud of the hard work they do.Michelle Hilton-Moon
“Their connection to the community is beautiful, but to see that they can go even further and spread their knowledge, is something we are really looking forward to.”
The centre transferred from a day care to a preschool in February and has now been recognised for their efforts as a leader in early childhood education.
Principal Renee Smith said there’s a growing intrigue from other educators eager to learn about how they operate.
“We have a lot of services who contact us for sticky-beak tours and we have probably had about 50 come through this year,” she said.
“We've had people from mainland USA, Hawaii, Japan and China. So people are looking at our philosophies and practices and trying to hone in on what we're doing.
“It honours the pioneers that actually decided 40 years ago that we needed an Aboriginal service for Aboriginal children.”
Courtney Rossetti, Awabakal’s educational leader, praised the tight-knit team of employees.
“I've worked all over New South Wales in my 13 years in the industry and I've never worked within a service that has such amazing mentoring and leadership qualities,” Ms Rossetti said.
“Part of the excellent rating was showing how we are going to mentor and lead the way in the childhood sector, and one of those things is sharing and being part of the community,” she said.
As a team we are visionaries and I hope this is a stepping stone for other indigenous services in particular to get themselves on the map.Courtner Rossetti - Awabakal Educational Leader
The team hold "yarning-circles" each morning as a way of building a continuous rapport that aims to uphold their principles and philosophies - an integral focus of the centre.
One parent who has had two children enrolled at the centre in recent years, Billy Hooper from The Hill in Newcastle, said the rating is just a formal recognition of what Awabakal has already been doing for so long.
“It only formalises it for me, I've always believed this is the best preschool I've ever seen,” Hooper said. “I've got older kids aswell and they never had anything like this.
“The staff never seem to change, and it's so rare to see some indigenous culture, so to actually get it instilled into the kids earlier, I think it’s a winning strategy and makes me very proud.”