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Inside Teaching : April 2011
www.atra.edu.au | firstname.lastname@example.org FEATURE 7 funding can be a barrier for some schools. Canterbury Boys High School, a government school in western Sydney, found an innovative way to break this barrier: it grabbed the attention of United States billionaire businesswoman, television host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey. In September last year, Winfrey announced to a 300-person studio audience in Chicago that they would have the opportunity to join her on an all-expenses- paid trip of a lifetime to Australia. Beyond touching the lives of those audience members lucky enough to travel across the country, Winfrey’s trip ‘down under’ benefited hundreds of Australian school students at Canterbury Boys High School, thanks to one dedicated and passionate teacher. a little background Much of the success of Canterbury Boys High School can be attributed to the dedication and passion of its teachers and school leaders. The school promotes high expectations in all aspects of school life. Past students include many high achievers in various fields, including the academic – such as Professor Gerald Wilkes, ex Dean of English at the University of Sydney; the sporting – such as cricketer Arthur Morris and rugby league player George Peponis; the political – such as Australia’s 25th Prime Minister, John Howard and Senior Trade Commissioner Allan Morrell; and the arts – such as film critic ‘Mr Movies’ Bill Collins and actor Grahame Bond, perhaps best known for his role as Aunty Jack. The school endeavours to provide students with the skills, knowledge and confidence required to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Students are encouraged to seek learning opportunities beyond the classroom by taking up TAFE ‘tasters,’ undertaking work experience or work placement, experiencing real-life learning as coffee baristas and construction workers, and participating in excursions to sites of historical, geographical, scientific and cultural significance around Sydney. These successes are achieved despite Canterbury Boys High School having fewer benefits than some nearby schools in Sydney. The school caters to a diverse base of students from a variety of family backgrounds. Located in Sydney’s inner- western suburbs, 90 per cent of its enrolled students come from non-English speaking families. Making music Observing these students last year, newly-appointed teacher Polly Dunning saw the potential to improve the boys’ learning further if they had more up- to-date technology in the information technology and music departments. Dunning heard the news that The Oprah Winfrey Show was coming to Australia and, knowing that the show often responds to requests for help, she took the plunge and made contact. Dunning wrote a letter to Winfrey outlining the story about her students. She explained the impact that the cultural differences of her students can have on their education, but also how her students share a common passion: hip-hop. Specifically, she explained, they were interested in the rapper Jay-Z: the students related to his music but also to him as a person, because they understood how he was able to overcome disadvantage as a child to become one of the most well-known performers and businessmen in the music industry today. The response Touched by Dunning’s description of her students’ desire to overcome adversity, Winfrey decided to help. The show orchestrated a visit from Jay-Z himself to the school while he was on tour with U2 in Sydney. Stunned staff and students were captured by Winfrey’s camera crew while Jay-Z spent some time at the school with the students. The rapper took a look at the students’ learning environment and listened to some of the students’ music.