Bullarto Primary: The     little school that could

February 14th, 2021Bullarto Primary: The little school that could

A TINY school nestled at the edge of the Wombat State Forest has a simple but formidable motto: Where the forest meets the school and the children greet the future. And it has never been more relevant.

And that is because only four years ago, with four students, Bullarto Primary School was destined for closure.
But when principal Jo Pegg had an opportunity to move from a state school in the Grampians to see if she could either regrow Bullarto Primary School or come up with an exit strategy, she chose the former.
“After two weeks at the school I just knew how important it was for the local community that it stayed open,” she said.

“It was about coming up with a local niche to provide the community with a nature-based learning program which included a music and art program, because that’s what the community was looking for.”
Four years on and the little school has grown in strength and numbers and now 18 children are enrolled.
Bullarto Primary School is part of the state government education system and while policies and government guidelines are adhered to, this small but shining education light has developed a unique and inspirational learning environment where every child is supported on an individual basis.
“Our parents all look for a school where their children’s wellbeing and happiness is the most important aspect of their learning. We owe our academic success to our dedication and commitment to a healthy mind and healthy body attitude and every child can be themselves,” Jo said.
“We just let each child shine and be their own person. If a child is autistic, is shy or has anxiety, our school is about celebrating every child and who they are as an individual.”

The school has a dedicated sensory room where the kids can take the time they need to move through the learning at hand. A junior room houses preps through to grade two students and a senior room shapes the minds of the grade 3 to grade 6 kids.
“All of the children learn to their individual standards and pace. If a child is in grade 3 but is capable of grade 5 maths, then we come up with angles to support that child and their capabilities. We are focused on every single child and their families.”
Jo is a hands-on principal who spends half of the week teaching and shares the teaching role with a full-time teacher, which is a first for the school in a long time. Jo devotes the rest of the week to administration tasks but says more often than not she will take paperwork home if it means more hands-on work in the classrooms.
“I came from a mainstream school, classroom-based where play time was outside for recess and lunch and where data was collected and tests were a major focus. Here at Bullarto, if we feel like going outside at any time for our classes we can,” she said.
“Studies show us that our mental health is improved when we are at one with nature. Nature-based learning underpins what we do and inspires our school community.”
And despite COVID forcing all of our school kids into remote learning, for Jo and the rest of the school, they embraced it by simply being positive.
“We are a positively-driven school so when we were faced with remote learning we all supported each other. The entire school and families would connect every morning so we could all see each other and catch up,” she said.
“I spoke with some families every day and all families on a regular basis and we all adapted very quickly. We were lucky to have incredibly supportive and engaged parents and not once did we receive any negative feedback. We also found our children came back with a greater appreciation of school and of their own learning.”
Jo said she, like every other school principal worldwide, hopes remote learning is a thing of the past but says if it should happen again her school community is prepared and will get through by concentrating on the positives.
Jo is hoping to continue to grow the little school – just as the resident goats grew their family at the school last year, and is always searching for new ways to engage the wider community and highlight the importance of Bullarto Primary School.
“We already have future enrolments and a family is due to begin here when they can return from England. They are originally from Victoria but researched our school and have chosen to send their children here because of what we can provide.”
And a nature/art playgroup open to all pre-school children is in the process of re-starting on Friday, February 26.
“Being surrounded by nature makes my job easy. Our school is set in a beautiful environment and we are connected to an amazing forest. Our children, their families and the supportive community are the real success stories for keeping the school alive.”

Above, Lily and Rupert with Milkshake, the school’s newest ‘kid’, who was born during remote learning last year,
below, the entire school body

Images: Sandy Scheltema

Words: Narelle Groenhout

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