When school is a circus

Circus skills have been incorporated into all aspects of the curriculum at this unique school which teaches through the Arts.

Ludmilla Primary School is a small public school located on Larrakeyah Land in the Darwin suburbs. There are 175 students from preschool to Year 6, with around 40 percent of students identifying as Aboriginal and 50 percent with English as an additional language.

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Like many schools, the staff at Ludmilla are passionate about acknowledging and exploring the different ways students learn. What makes this little primary school unique, is that they have integrated circus into their curriculum as a learning platform.

Carol Putica joined the school as principal in 2016 with a passion for equity in education and an interest in the role of well-being in bettering outcomes for students.

“One of my priorities was to promote and incorporate learning through the ‘Arts’,” explains Putica. “Our diversity is our strength and enriches the learning at our school.” Aboriginal culture, language and care for the environment had always been deeply embedded across the school and Putica had seen first-hand the benefits of circus in promoting greater student engagement, so it was a natural step for the two to be combined.

“Corrugated Iron Youth Arts is the leading arts organisation in the NT and I had been fortunate to work with them in a previous school,” explains Putica. “We started running circus workshops at Ludmilla in 2016 and have continued to this day. Initially, we wanted to boost student engagement and wellbeing. However, we soon realised there was also great potential to promote other skills that set the students up to be independent and active learners.”

Ludmilla Primary School, image supplied

Circus is taught weekly across the whole school, with the teachers working alongside the circus coach every semester to develop their own curriculum aligning with the Art and Physical Education areas of the Australian Curriculum.

Some of the skills required for circus are highly valued in other areas: such as persisting, cooperation, thinking flexibly and striving for accuracy and precision. Developing these skills has now been integrated into every lesson.

“It is wonderful to see students experience high levels of success in Circus that they may not have in other learning areas and, as a result, approach their learning with a more open mindset.” Carol Putica

Beyond the ring into the classroom

The response to the Circus program – now in its ninth year – has been universally positive. “Families love the joy that it brings to their child’s time at our school. We enjoy every performance and look at the students in wonder and awe at what they are capable of. Working with Corrugated Iron Youth Arts has provided opportunities to take the students beyond the school and opened up students’ minds to what is possible.”

“All classes work towards presenting a performance,” adds Putica. “Often these will be part of a school assembly. However, the school has also partnered with other circus groups and performed beyond school. Recently we performed with an international circus troupe at the opening of the Darwin Festival.”

Ludmilla Primary School

But aren’t teachers already busy enough trying to deliver their own curriculum without the extra work involved in incorporating circus skills as well?

“Our teachers are just like the students, they look forward to circus and the chance to work collaboratively with the circus coach,” replied Putica. “Schools are very busy places, and often it feels like it is hard to prioritise a program like circus. However, the joy and fun that it has brought to our school, along with all the learning, has made it a valued and worthwhile program.”

It is the collaboration between Corrugated Iron and teachers that makes learning at Ludmilla such a unique experience. Teachers are part of all circus lessons as they are the ones who will harness the students’ potential to extend their learning to other subject areas.

“Through the ‘Arts’ we build collaboration and cooperation. It promotes problem-solving, and we learn that making mistakes is an important step in the process of learning. Through art we can do this joyfully and with great humour. Through performances students build their communications skills, both spoken and unspoken. They become brave and supporters of others. There is not an area of learning that doesn’t benefit from these skills.” Principal Carol Putica

Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a freelance writer and the author of "Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed our World", now available in all good bookstores.

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