DVD: Supporting refugee students at school:
Mt Druitt Case study

Interviews with staff at Mt Druitt Public School examine how schools are improving their processes and routines to better help refugee students and their families.

Transcript

Music

Narrator:
Most refugee students have a background of traumatic and stressful experiences. Many have experienced war. They have lived for long periods in refugee camps. Some have lost friends and family members.

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Narrator:
Enrolling in a primary school in Australia is for many refugee students their first experience of schooling. These students need intensive support so that they develop the skills and understandings to engage successfully in schooling in Australia.

Music

Man:
Mount Druitt Public has a very diverse community. We have five hundred and ninety kids here at the moment. We have eighty one per cent of our families are from a non-English speaking background.

Teacher:
Remember how we have different ways of saying good morning. Bonjour Wilson.

Narrator:
Mount Druitt Public School has been enrolling students from migrant and refugee backgrounds for many years. However, five years ago they noticed that the refugee children they were enrolling had more complex needs than those they had previously encountered.

Man:
Often there were no English language skills at all. We had trouble filling in the enrolment forms.

Narrator:
Many of these children had grown up in refugee camps. They and their families had experienced significant depravation and trauma.

Man:
As we got more and more of these kids in we started to learn more and more about the difficulties they’d been through and the very hard, I suppose, lives that they’d lived in the refugee camps.

Teacher:
As you know we’re going to start off with our counting and our alphabet song.

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Narrator:
Many teachers were challenged by some of the behaviours they were seeing in class and in the playground.

Woman:
With refugee students they may for instance have had interrupted schooling, they could have seen a lot of violence.

Woman:
They might be unfocused. They might be you know really jumpy. It can go from one end of the spectrum to the other in terms of activity level, in terms of emotional level.

Singing

Woman:
And I guess this is their adjustment. They’re needing time for their brain to accommodate all of this information.

Narrator:
The school leadership team discussed what they could do to better support newly arrived refugee students and their families.

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Narrator:
They talked with staff and surveyed teachers about their professional learning needs.

Woman:
The STARS model looks at how we can give them feelings of security, of trust.

Narrator:
STARS stands for Safety, Trust, Attachment, Responsibility and Skills.

Woman:
With my group what I would like you to do is …

Narrator:
Refugee students need to be in environments that make them feel safe in order to develop trust and attachment. The STARS model helped Mount Druitt reflect on the way they were doing things and think about how to improve school processes and routines such as enrolment and orientation.

Woman:
Hi, can I help you?

Woman:
Yes, please. I want to enrol my child to the school, please.

Woman:
When we get new enrolments I like to go down and meet the parents, gather some information just so that I have an understanding of the circumstances that they’ve been through, prior educational experiences of their child. Hello, I’m Barbara Colreavy the English as a Second Language Teacher. So, you’re enrolling at our school.

Woman:
I think it’s really important for a counsellor to be aware of new enrolments particularly students who are refugees.

Woman:
Can I see your paperwork please?

Woman:
We’re used to I guess going through what the background might be in terms of the children’s health, what experiences they might have had in terms of trauma. Them working from there to get a plan as to how to best support the student within the school.

Woman:
We are also able to put the family in touch with agencies that may be able to help them in housing and medical and things like that. Did Susu go to school before coming to Australia? It’s important for us to build a relationship with the families so that it’s actually a partnership between the home and the school.

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Woman:
They lived in Jordan for five years.

Narrator:
The school employs a Bilingual Learning Support Officer who assists students in the classroom.

Man:
My role here is to connect the teachers’ and the students’ who are now in this country and also to create a bridge between the teachers and their parents. So, what I normally do, is do one-on-one learning with the student and also help teachers to understand their cultural perspective of their parents and their students.

Narrator:
The school tries to ensure that an interpreter is always available for parent interviews. They also use the telephone interpreter service to communicate with parents and students when necessary.

Woman:
Hello, yes I’d like an interpreter please, an Arabic interpreter. Last time when we were working …

Narrator:
An intensive English class was created for newly arrived refugee children.

Man:
The purpose of the intensive English class was to provide a safe environment for those children when they first arrived and those very important early stages of their schooling.

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Narrator:
Mount Druitt Public School has made some significant changes to the way it supports refugee students and their families. The strategies and programs they have introduced are helping students settle into school and develop the skills they need for success.

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