Dandenong West Primary School: A community hub model for supporting EAL children and families
Dandenong West Primary School (DWPS) has a student population of 302, with 93% of students from a non-English-speaking background (Source: My School website). Students speak over 50 languages, with many speaking three to four languages.
Many children have been in Australia for less than three years. Many families are newly arrived immigrants from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan. Some families are seeking asylum or are in community detention.
‘Many families are isolated by language, culture and unemployment. Some families are highly qualified - university professors, engineers, accountants…they have high expectations for their children.’ (Principal, in
AEU News, Vol 32, Issue 3, May 2014)
The assistant principal, community hub leader, a multicultural aide and intervention support educator were interviewed as part of this case study.
Dandenong is a suburb of Melbourne, approximately 30 kilometres south-east of Melbourne’s CBD.
Dandenong is culturally and linguistically diverse with almost 70% of residents born overseas (from 132 countries) and with 70% speaking a language other than English.
At the heart of building relationships between the school and the community are the DWPS Community Hub, Let’s Read program and the Schools as Banks project.
The DWPS Hub
Opened in 2014, the Hub offers a range of opportunities for students, parents, carers and the wider community to be involved with the school.
The Hub has a series of aims:
- To promote a sense of belonging and connectedness to the community
- To link families and their preschool children to available local services and support networks
- To provide positive learning opportunities.
Hub programs and activities
Hub programs for families include computer classes, cooking class, craft morning, English and literacy classes, playgroup and sewing classes. Preschool children are encouraged to attend along with their parents for English classes, or for sessions targeted at children, such as playgroup.
‘Children learn by being exposed to English. They gain confidence in speaking English by attending the programs with their families’. (Community Hub Leader)
Let’s Read program
The Let’s Read program loans multilingual books to families. Let’s Read is a national early literacy initiative that promotes reading with children from birth to five years. The program commenced delivery in Dandenong in 2012.
Schools as Banks for Social Capital project
Through the development of the Schools as Banks project with Mission Australia and St Anthony’s Primary School, the school has been able to make links to agencies to support parents and families.
This has resulted in:
- A partnership with RACV to provide driving lessons for families
- cooking classes for parents who are unfamiliar with common Australian ingredients
- computing and English language classes for parents, as well as craft sessions for mums
- a women-in-leadership program with Rowville Neighbourhood House
- partnerships with Medicare Local, United Way, AMES, Mission Australia, Rotary.
Student leadership and welbeing programs
DWPS has developed links through its student leadership and wellbeing programs that have enabled them to create a:
- partnership with Dandenong Hospital to film a documentary to demystify the services at the hospital’s children’s ward
- Good Morning Club with breakfast for children from struggling families.
Supporting home language
DWPS has a range of supports for students to maintain their home language alongside learning English. Multilingual Education Aides (MEAs) are used to support children within classrooms.
The MEAs encourage families to be involved in their children’s learning. They do this by emphasising the importance of maintaining home language. They suggest strategies such as parents sharing books with their children. It doesn’t matter if they don’t speak English.
‘The family may not understand what to do at home, we talk to the families and tell them what they can do - so we work with students and their families. Like reading books, we say that if you can’t read English, you can look at the picture and make a story in your own language…or you can ask the children what the story is about so they can explain in their own language.’ (MEA)
Supporting English language learning
MEAs use their skills to help the children learn by referencing English words to another language.
‘I try to speak English first, I speak slowly and use simple words or pictures. Then if they didn’t understand I speak my language (Farsi, Dari).’ (MEA)
Assistance from Noble Park English Language School
DWPS provides integrated and intensive support for EAL learners with the assistance of Noble Park English Language School, along with specific funding for EAL support. A primary teacher from Noble Park is assigned to DWPS to provide an intensive New Arrivals Program for eligible students for whom English is an additional language.
For Foundation classes there is a play-based curriculum, ‘which is language rich, and an extension of kindergarten:
…lots of dress ups, role modelling, it works really well. They link it to things the kids are interested in. The kids have a hospital and police station and construction site set up - the services they need to access as well as the language.’ (Assistant Principal)
Promising Practice: Student language ambassadors at DWPS
At the start of each year children are placed into language groups and are selected to be language ambassadors. Their photos are displayed at the front of the school.
Student ambassadors are used within the school for language support but more importantly, for information exchange and providing support to community members. With over 50 different languages spoken across the school, the language ambassador program is as much about valuing linguistic diversity as it is about the provision of practical language and community support for families.
Supporting transition to school
DWPS undertakes a range of activities, in collaboration with its community hub, to prepare children for school. This starts with visits to local kindergartens to work out who is coming into the school, followed by information sessions for families. These sessions welcome families to the school and assist them to become familiar with school facilities, processes and procedures.
Promising practice: Sing and Grow transition program at DWPS
The community hub at DWPS runs a 10-week transition to school program called Sing and Grow. It is held in term four when kindergarten doesn’t have sessions. This program aims to assist families in the transition from kindergarten to school, and is specifically for children who may not have attended Early Years Services (EYS) including kindergarten.
For some children kindergarten and school are their first experiences of speaking English. The program helps to develop confidence and assists children to learn skills needed for school. It does this with dancing, singing, playing percussion instruments and relaxing to music.
Skills learned in Sing and Grow
Children learn skills such as increasing their attention span, problem solving, following instructions, counting, sharing and taking turns.
Early Years Services moving into the community hub
DWPS aims to undertake school transition more effectively as EYS are moved on site as part of the next stage of the community hub model.