COUNTING gum nuts as part of their maths lesson and speaking words in the native Worimi language, 12 Indigenous students are now able to connect their culture to the classroom.
It's a first for the Port Stephens region, launching an Aboriginal school within an existing school, through the Yadha Muru Foundation.
After three years of planning, 'Gilibaa' meaning place of light, has opened its doors at St Philip's Christian College (SPCC) Port Stephens, in a move to weave language and culture, with high academic standards.
"We're making sure they have the ability and space to learn language, dance, culture and story and understand who they are as Aboriginal kids," SPCC Aboriginal Education director Jonathan Lilley said.
"It's this beautiful expression of culture, but still meeting the outcomes of education."
Embedded within the broader community at SPCC, the kindergarten to year 2 students enjoy a regular school day, with reading time, sounds and phonics, mathematics, science and geography, sport and chapel.
"All those things are normal for St Philip's right across but we've woven deep Aboriginal culture in the syllabus," Mr Lilley said.
"There's still high learning outcomes, but we're doing it through Aboriginal ways."
He said there were aspirations for bilingual teaching but there were no language classes at Gilibaa, instead it was incorporated in speaking with the children each day.
"We'll talk to the kids in both languages both in English and Gathang, which is the language of the Worimi people and that is a joy in itself," he said.
The students are also able to get out "on country" and learn, and on Thursday mornings, they engage in a circle meeting at Gilibaa with Aboriginal elders from around the peninsula.
Worimi Elder Aunty Lorraine Lilley said one or two generations ago, the Worimi people of Port Stephens were restricted to primary level education only.
"... not to mention our traditional language was prohibited. Now we are discussing bilingual education, this is an amazing development," she said.
She said Worimi elders will be delighted to know their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have these learning opportunities.
"Well done and congratulations for being bold enough to bring this exciting project to our community," she said.
Mr Lilley said the school was also a response to education gaps within the community, where children are leaving school earlier "than they perhaps should".
"We're trying to grow those kids to stay at school for longer. We want their education to be on a positive trajectory and we want to continue to grow that identity which is linked to the wellbeing of their Aboriginality," he said.