When Julie Christopoulos, a Senior Advisor in Independent Schools Victoria’s School Improvement team, visited East Preston Islamic College, she saw a need.
Many of the school’s students come from non-English speaking backgrounds. Some are refugees.
Given the backgrounds of the parents and the students, Julie saw that the school needed extra support, particularly in the areas of numeracy and literacy. Working with the school, she proposed an after-hours learning support program.
It started in 2011 with just one student. Now it’s operating two days a week, open to every student at the school, free of charge.
As well as numeracy and literacy, the program offers Arabic coaching and religious studies. It provides extra coaching and tutoring for VCE and VCAL students. It conducts master classes and co-curricular activities to enhance students’ academic skills, their interests and talents.
Now the success of the program has been recognised in the 2015 MY Education Awards run by the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY) and presented last month by the Victorian Minister for Education, James Merlino.
CMY commended the program for enhancing students’ ‘physical, social and emotional wellbeing and prepares them to become informed citizens who understand, connect and contribute to community relations’.
Presenting the awards, Minister Merlino spoke of the additional challenges facing the children of newly arrived families. He said he was inspired by the success of students involved in all of CMY’s education programs, including the one run by East Preston Islamic College.
The challenges that the minister referred to are familiar to Julie Christopoulos.
Some of the students have experienced long periods of disruption to their education. Some have suffered trauma in their parent’s homelands and as refugees. Sometimes their parents are unable to provide the education support that other young Australians take for granted. There are language barriers, the challenge of adapting to a new society and culture, and the legacy of trauma. They have to work hard to create a new life in a new country.
The program involves parents, school staff, pre-service teachers and volunteers.
‘The place is really buzzing,’ according to Julie, who says that the program has academic and social benefits. ‘It’s not just an extension of the classroom,’ she says. ‘This support has helped improve student outcomes and its benefits have spread beyond the school, which has become a real community hub.’
With the Australian Government agreeing to settle an additional 12,000 refugees this year, with priority going to families and children, there’s an enduring need for programs like this. I’m proud of ISV’s role in making it a success.