The Alice Springs School of the Air was the first one of its kind established in Australia. It is a primary aged correspondence school that utilises various communications technologies to have daily contact with students, home tutors and teachers. The first broadcasts were made from the Royal Flying Doctor Base in Alice Springs, Northern Territory (NT), in 1951.
Alice Springs School of the Air turned 50 on June 8th 2001. During the week commencing June 4th the school had a special in school week to celebrate the 50 years.
The week involved current students, staff, parents and tutors as well as all those who have been associated in one way or another during the previous 50 years.
The focus for the students was through The Arts and an artist in residence, Christopher Brocklebank, was employed by the School Council to lead this part of the celebrations. Christopher had worked in a similar way with the school before and has an understanding of the context. Christopher has marvellous skills for making things 'evolve' and a History Maze was the culmination of a week of work by the students. All the students enjoyed the maze and in a very positive fun environment learnt lots abut the history of the school.
During the term 1 'in school' students had an opportunity to work with a highly skilled local potter, Midge Coleman in making their own special tile. The tiles incorporate designs depicting transport, technology, and the environment while the youngest children made clay hands and feet. These tiles were used to make a wall outside the Visitor Centre show casing the students' work.
50 years of providing distance education was well worth celebrating. The following timeline outlines many of the significant dates in the 50 year history of the school.
1944 Miss Adelaide Miethke, a member of the Council of the Flying Doctor service of SA, suggests the idea of using two way radio to give educational talks to children in the Outback. Discussions between Mr RG Pitts (Director of FDS in Alice Springs) Mr L. Dodd (Assistant supervisor of Education in the NT and headmaster of Alice Springs Higher Primary School) and Miss Adelaide Miethke set in train the beginnings of the School of the Air -the first of its kind in the world.
1950 After a long wait for special communications equipment, a trial program begins. Teachers at Alice Springs Primary High School volunteer to take radio lessons. A landline is laid from the Flying Doctor base to the Hartley St School. Teachers take turns to present the specially prepared scripts to the outback children with the help of radio staff at the Flying Doctor base.
1951 On 8th June the School of the Air was officially opened at the Flying Doctor Base. Mr Kissell of Alice Springs Higher Primary school is the leader of the broadcasting team. At first lessons are a one way affair, but soon a question and answer time was added to the end of each broadcast. Sometimes a microphone was taken into one of the classrooms at the school and the Outback children could listen in to specially prepared lessons or dramatisations. Three half-hour sessions are broadcast each week.
1953 Miss Molly Ferguson takes over as the leader of the broadcasting team.
1954 The School of the Air now operates from the current Anzac Hill High School from a purpose built broadcast studio with an observation area. Miss Molly Ferguson becomes the sole teacher for School of the Air.
1955 The first Get-together week is held in May with 30 children attending aged from 5-15 years. The Get-together is held at the Alice Springs Higher Primary School during the school holiday break.
1955 Miss Molly Ferguson is awarded the MBE for her work at School of the Air. She retires to get married.
1956 Mrs Margaret Stiller becomes the School of the Air teacher. Two extra radio sessions are added to help the secondary students and closer links are made with the correspondence work. The school library gets underway and books are posted out to students.
1957 The first excursion for School of the Air students. Mrs Stiller and 4 other adults take 18 students to Adelaide for 3 weeks.
1958 Mrs Nancy Barrett is employed to replace Mrs Stiller who has to retire through ill health.
1960 Mrs Nancy Barrett embarks on the first official "patrol". She uses her own car and is away for a week at a time, visiting as many stations as she can in one direction, spending half a day at each and staying at a different station each night. The "patrols" were so successful that the Commonwealth Government went on to provide the vehicles and expenses for future patrols.
1967 Mr David Ashton becomes the School of the Air teacher. He goes on patrol four times a year for 1-2 weeks.
1968 School of the Air moves once more, this time to the Flying Doctor Base. It is located in a demountable here until 1977. A second teacher, Mrs Judy Hodder, is employed to take the younger children and to provide relief for the teacher on patrol. Students are still receiving and returning work to the S.A correspondence school where it is marked before being returned.
1974 Alice Springs School of the Air becomes completely autonomous. It is now the correspondence school for Central Australia. All families are given transceivers and the school now has its own frequencies. Correspondence work is now sent out to students, marked and returned from Alice Springs. There are now enough students to have a teacher for each class. Patrols are now made by class teachers to each of their students once a year. The first supervisors' conference is organised by Mr David Ashton and is attended by 25 supervisors
1975 The School of the Air Logo is designed by Mrs Val Whalen, ASSOA teacher librarian
1976 The first aerial patrol takes place. In 1991 a quarter of all patrols are carried out by air.
1977 Operation begins from Head St, although teachers still had to travel to the RFDS base for radio broadcasts. Pre school is added to the school.
1978 Official opening of the Head St School. The radio broadcasts are made from the specially built studio. There are now 13 teachers at the school and 3 administrative staff.
1979 Alice Springs School of the Air is issued with its first patrol vehicle, a brown 4WD Toyota Landcruiser.
1980 The library trailer takes the library to students, however this had to be discontinued after it was deemed not viable.
1985 The first Inschool was held. This was organised by Mrs Eileen Kennedy for her year 3 class, it was so successful it has become an annual event for all classes.
1991 40th Birthday celebrations with Mr Christopher Brocklebank, the artist in residence.
1992 A trial program for indigenous students is held. A major radio upgrade is begun. The preschool-year 3, course writing is completed. Satellite television broadcasts via Imparja are trialed. Toshiba laptops are trialed in the senior classes. Under Principal Mr Ed Boyd, communications technology takes off and becomes a major focus from 1992 onwards.
1993 The school introduces email to staff and senior students and computers are made available to students in Years 6 and 7. New phones and a fax are installed.
1995 An extension is completed providing the Head St. building with a new Visitor Centre, a larger teachers' preparation area and more storage space. Computers are made available to students in Years 4-7.
1996 The new Visitor Centre is officially opened and a full time Manager appointed.
1999 Mr Tony Richards is employed to set up MAOSS to give School of the Air families and the wider community, access to the Internet The use of email becomes an important communications tool, especially for the older students.
2000 The ASSOA Intranet is online. Queen Elizabeth 11 visits the school.
2001 Alice Springs School of the Air celebrates its 50th birthday. Christopher Brocklebank is Artist in residence for the lead up to the Birthday week celebrations in June. The 50th Birthday Mural Wall is officially opened.