Chaplaincy also a pet project
Being a school chaplain is as varied as it is important to the fabric of a remote Kimberley community in the WA’s rugged North.
Nikki Stinson, 65, is a seasoned campaigner and her duties go well beyond listening and providing a shoulder to cry on.
And that is just as well because she has about 700 students — 85-per-cent of them indigenous — that come from a region with high suicide rates among young people.
Some of her time is spent on what she calls “intentionally loitering” with her loyal dog Bubba.
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The foot patrols during breaks are to see if any students need to chat, or there are one-to-one sessions in her office with students, teachers and parents.
Ms Stinson also does a fair number of suicide risk assessments and regularly liaises with the school psychologist and senior staff along with the Department of Communities.
Living in the bush, she has many strings to her bow and regularly does home visits to assist families, and often drops in at the early learning centre at Mowanjum, the nearest Aboriginal community.
“When I see — or teachers report to me — that students are ill or injured and it’s not being attended to, I contact parents, and with their permission, may take the child to receive medical care,” she said.
Her popularity has now expanded to the airwaves after a spate of suicides prompted a local radio station DJ to play songs of local musicians encouraging choosing life.
“I rang to thank him, and by the end of the conversation I was booked to do an hour-long weekly radio program called Chaplain’s Corner,” Ms Stinson said.
“That was almost two years ago, and the radio program has become a way to do mass home visitation, to talk about parenting, health, emotions, and the many issues that students and families deal with every day.”
Formerly in the US Navy, Ms Stinson felt compelled to make a life change and, along with her husband and three children, moved to Italy, Egypt and Thailand before settling in Perth in 1995.
“I taught English as a foreign language during our travels, and have taught in mainstream primary and secondary schools in the US, Egypt and Australia,” she said. “When we moved to Derby I thought I would be teaching but I became the first chaplain at DDHS.”
Ms Stinson has incorporated art therapy into her role as a chaplain.
“I keep a file of photocopies from adult colouring books on my talking table, along with a basket of markers and crayons, and I would say that is my greatest art resource,” she said.
“When kids, or adults, come in upset, angry, stressed, they’ll head straight for the file and start colouring, and talking follows. I colour right along with them, partly because I enjoy it but also it helps to keep me from making too much prolonged eye contact, which is culturally inappropriate up here, and tends to make people uneasy.”
Bubba plays the role as chief therapist and loves all the attention. “He was invited to come to school not long after I started working and was such a hit with everyone he’s been attending almost every day since then,” Ms Stinson said.
She said there was nothing like a cuddle with Bubba when students were upset, angry or sad. “It works for teachers too,” she said.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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