Educating and supporting refugee students and families

The Refugee Education Support Program (RESP) is helping schools and teachers better meet the needs of refugee students and their families.

Baden Powell P-9 College is a large multicultural school in Melbourne's west. Students at the college were born in 50 different countries and speak 61 different languages. It's one of more than 100 schools in Victoria that have participated in the Refugee Education Support Program since it began in 2012.

For children and their parents coming to a new country and culture, understanding school in Australia can be challenging and can be a barrier to engaging children with their learning.  For refugee students and their families, this is only one of many challenges they face. 

When the school understands their backgrounds and needs, they can develop ways to positively engage them with the rest of the school community.  The Refugee Education Support Program works with schools to do this.

Learning with the whole family

Baden Powell P-9 College participated in the RESP in 2016 and 2017 and developed a number of strategies to build links with their refugee families.

The Family Learning Club and the Library of Languages involve both students and their parents in the school environment. The Family Learning Club gets everybody to learn about literacy and numeracy in a class together.

Literacy Intervention Teacher, EAL Co-ordinator and teacher Diane Healey says 'I just love the way that the parents get to see what happens in the classrooms. It eliminates anxiety about what school's about and makes them feel welcome.'

A mother of twins from India says she has learned a lot about the Australian school system from the Family Learning Club.

'I didn't know it was so important,' she says. 'Numeracy is taught very different here compared to India.'

'I like learning maths and reading with my children, especially how you teach comprehension in an Australian school.'

Her daughter in Grade 1 enjoys it too. 'I like to read books to my mum in Family Learning Club,' she says. 'Parents read books to us in different languages. I like hearing how it sounds.'

At the Library of Languages, parents and their children meet at the library to translate childrens' books into their own languages. Now, a mini library allows students to check out books in different languages to share with their families at home.

Through their work with RESP staff and VicHealth, Baden Powell College introduced the Sisters and Brothers Program at school which teaches young people about racial discrimination through dance, role play and drama.

They also created the African Sisters dance group. 'The dance group has also created leadership, mentoring and performance opportunities for students and this in turn has positively engaged families in the school community,' Ms Healey says.

Teaching teachers to support refugee students

The Refugee Education Support Program is a partnership funded by the Department of Education and Training, between the Department, the Centre for Multicultural Youth and Foundation House, and delivered in collaboration with the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria and Independent Schools Victoria.

Foundation House CEO Paris Aristotle says, 'Baden Powell College should be congratulated on the many changes they have been able to implement in their school.'

'When teachers use their knowledge at school, relationships between families and schools become stronger, resulting in better education outcomes for children and stronger school communities.'

Ms Healey says the school and RESP staff worked together collaboratively. 'They gave us some ideas on what we already do and what we could do – they asked, what are your needs? How would that look in our school?'

Foundation House Schools Support Program Coordinator, Samantha McGuffie, says teachers across Victoria who have participated in the RESP have provided positive feedback. A secondary school teacher told Foundation House they have gained 'a greater awareness of the issues and a greater awareness of the possibilities.'

Centre for Multicultural Youth CEO Carmel Guerra says, 'Schools and school communities have a significant role to play in improving social inclusion.'

'These learning support and family engagement programs are vital to ensure students from refugee backgrounds have their needs met, feel supported in their settlement journey, and are able to enjoy a positive learning experience.'

Education for everybody

Mr Aristotle says the Refugee Education Support Program changes the way that schools and families work together to meet the needs of children from refugee backgrounds as they make their way along education pathways.

'Children and families from refugee backgrounds have fled violence and persecution and experienced trauma that is unimaginable to most of us,' Mr Aristotle says.

'After being provided with protection by Australia, the opportunity to attend school and imagine a happy and prosperous future is an aspiration we should help all children achieve.'

In 2018 and 2019, the RESP will work with more than 30 schools in Geelong, Melton, Caroline Springs, Craigieburn and Cranbourne. ​

This year, National Refugee Week marks its 20th anniversary.

Refugee Week 2018 aims to highlight that there are more displaced people around the world than ever before.

From 17-23 June, Australia will acknowledge national Refugee Week with the theme #WithRefugees.