The ‘Whale of Tale’ Recreational Reading Program was established  in 2013 through a partnership between the university and the Western Australian Department for Children Protection and Family Support’s Fremantle district (DCPFS).  The student teachers volunteer to spend one hour each week with a child in care, enjoying books through their own special time together. 

Dr Glenda Cain, literacy coordinator in Notre Dame’s School of Education says the initiative was borne out of an idea to connect the university’s primary and early childhood pre-service teachers to students who would benefit from their support. 
“It is very much about building the love of reading but also going deeper and building those relationships between two people,” Cain says.

“It’s beneficial for our students to connect early in their practice to a classroom and very valuable for them to connect and build their understanding of child development and particularly a child that has gone through trauma...”
There has been lots of interest from the student teachers, but Cain says the schools involved in the program are also raving about the impact it is having on their students.

“They could see that it was really helping them, really in terms of their self esteem and enjoyment and motivation to read. The child [loved] having one hour with a very special person who was just their person and the student [teachers] very much recall how they were often welcomed at the gate by the child who was waiting for them to arrive,” Cain adds. 
Given many of the children in the program have experienced trauma, the student teachers are quickly learning how to navigate sensitive issues and follow important procedures.

“We have a trauma PD that is run by the Department of Child Protection, just to give our students background knowledge as to managing children with trauma, so that’s available to all our Notre Dame students,” Cain says. 
“That’s a real key preparation, as is a talk from the child protection education officer about the role of child protection in placing and caring for children as well.”

Final year Bachelor of Education (Primary) student Katelyn Robinson took part in the Whale of a Tale program and says she continues to use reading as a tool for education and inspire the children under her guidance. 
On the back of her commitment to  the program, Robinson received employment as a part-time reading tutor to children in care with other programs delivered through the DCPFS.   

“I would go as far to describe my relationship with these students as a ‘big sister’. It has been such a privilege to work closely with them in a one-on-one environment where their needs and achievements are acknowledged and rewarded,” she says.   
Cain says the feedback she gets from students involved in the program is really inspiring. 

“It’s not easy, as you can imagine because of the circumstances, but it’s wonderful how our young people learn to manage those tricky situations and then come to see them as quite joyful in terms of the response the child has then to their reactions as well,” Cain says. “So it’s pretty special in that way, it really is.”