Prairie State School proves distance is no barrier to a quality primary education

Zoe Thomas
By Zoe Thomas
May 9 2022 - 9:00pm
Prairie State School students: Corey Butcher, Cherry Duddy, Maddie Butcher, Ellie Merton and Katie Butcher. Photo: Zoe Thomas.

The sounds of giggles, scissors slicing through cutting paper and unintelligible chatter ring out through Prairie State School.

It is Friday afternoon and the upcoming weekend is almost near. The excitement is palpable inside the classroom.

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Talk of new puppies, bush races and riding motorbikes are the hot topics of conversation upon closer inspection.

Maddie, Corey and Katie Butcher, along with Cherry Duddy and Ellie Merton, are the pupils of Prairie State School. A cohort of just five students.

They may be small, but they are just as mighty as their eastern seaboard counterparts proving distance and location is no barrier to receiving a quality primary education.

Prairie State School is located 340kms west of Townsville in the Flinders Shire with a local population of approximately 50 people in the township itself.

First established in 1894, the institution has a rich local history providing educational opportunities to the region for 128 years. It is one of the oldest schools in Queensland.

Maddie Butcher, Lisa Davidson, Cherry Duddy, Corey Butcher, Phil Warburton, Katie Butcher and Ellie Merton. Photo: Zoe Thomas.

A newcomer to town, teacher Phil Warburton decided to make the move to Prairie State School at the beginning of 2021.

"I decided to have a mid-year career change and studied teaching at UQ in Brisbane," he said.

"I did a little bit of relief teaching and saw this job advertised, which I thought would be a great opportunity."

Mr Warburton teaches a range of subjects from science, humanities, technology and arts.

"For me it's great - I absolutely love it," he said.

"I've loved teaching out here. It's really quite different and unique from those bigger schools in Townsville and Brisbane."

Mr Warburton works between both Prairie State School and Cameron Downs State School alternating teaching days.

"Cameron Downs is a very unique school in that it is on a working cattle station," he said.

"There are kids who live on the property and there are kids who come from surrounding properties."

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Mr Warburton said what sets Prairie State School apart from other schools is the strong social connections that students foster with one another.

"It is very much like a family here," he said.

"The kids really have the opportunity to grow up together."

An arts and craft lesson in action. Photo: Zoe Thomas.

The students are ingrained in the local Prairie community with their respective families owning small businesses or working within the agriculture industry.

Mr Warburton said the rural lifestyle is reflective in the cohort with rodeo and campdraft events popular on the calendar.

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"Campdrafting is really big out here," he said.

"It can prove a challenge at times if students are taken out of class for a period of time for campdraft events or to go mustering, but this is the life we live out here.

"There are also a lot of kids around that do distance education that come in for events such as Anzac Day or sports days."

As a primary school, students will often make the shift to boarding school to complete their higher education.

"For smaller schools, we have a banded curriculum, so we work in year bands," Mr Warburton said.

"We have from prep to year two, year three, four, five and six."

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Principal Maggie Glynn and full-time teacher aide, Lisa Davidson, round out the teaching staff of Prairie State School.

Prairie State School was established in 1894 with the institution providing educational opportunities to the region for 128 years. Photo: Zoe Thomas.

As with other rural communities, Mr Warburton said social isolation did prove a challenge for the students.

"The biggest thing for the kids is that they just don't have the population of the other kids in their year levels," he said.

"We try our best in terms of collaboration, which is an important life skill to learn.

"However on the other side of that coin, for example in bigger schools, year five students would never coexist with prep kids.

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"It is very much a family and you become a part of that as their teacher and staff. In Brisbane, you may only see parents once at parent-teacher interviews."

Mr Warburton said the students receive the same quality education as city schools with the use of the latest technology and resources available.

"I love the variety of my job and that I get to work across both schools," he said.

"I love what I get to teach, the people are really friendly, and fostering those close relationships with the families and with the kids.

"I really enjoy it."

Zoe Thomas

Zoe Thomas

Journalist - North Queensland Register/Queensland Country Life

Northern based journalist at North Queensland Register and Queensland Country Life.

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