A S.E.A Change: From The Sudan to Egypt to Australia
WELS is a setting for newly arrived elementary and high school students. It caters for 200 plus students, who are eligible for intensive English classes, before they enter mainstream schools. In 2003 some classes had 80-100% Sudanese (mostly ‘Dinka’ speakers) in them.
Specific classes were established to cater for the older preliterate students. However, elementary classes are grouped according to age, not language level, so there can be extremely diverse abilities in each class, for example schooled equivalent students from China or Argentina with very high literacy and numeracy skills along side students who have never touched a pencil or a book.
Initially many Sudanese students presented as lacking in concentration and being ‘hypervigilant’, due to traumatic experiences. Students had poor fine motor skills, which meant pre-writing skills had to be taught, along with the use of all classroom equipment. Some students could not count in their mother tongue and there were few transferable numeracy skills.
Dinka and Arabic speaking ‘ Multi Cultural Ethnic Aides’ were employed to work in the classrooms and to communicate with families. Hands on activities, as daily exercises were introduced to try to combat conflict in the playground. Some mothers with large families requested that WELS deal with discipline and social welfare issues. Volunteers from a local church, which had opened its door to the newcomers, came to give invaluable support in the classes.
Teachers had to review and adapt all their literacy, numeracy and social skills programs as well as teaching styles, assessment and reporting procedures.
One on one teaching, positive reinforcement for even the smallest improvement and a loving, caring relationship appeared to have the most positive outcomes.
Judith Byrne (Australia)
New Arrivals/ESL Teacher
Western English Language School
Judith Byrne has taught in primary, secondary and adult settings during her career. She was a foundation staff member at the ‘Robert Louis Stevenson School’ in Samoa. Judith is a qualified note taker for the Deaf. She has worked with Egyptians and Iraqi refugees at a Coptic Orthodox College. In 1990 she began working with new arrivals at the Western English Language School in Melbourne. At night she teaches in Language Studies at Victoria University. Her passion is cross cultural communication and working with preliterate students. Since 2001 she has studied Spanish in Cuba and Mexico.
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)