COVID-19 meant that many schools had to adapt their programs to an online environment. We caught up with the Multicultural Education Aides and EAL staff at Aitken Creek Primary School to hear about their EAL Coffee ‘n’ Chat Program for parents and carers from refugee backgrounds.
Why did you start the Coffee and Chat program at Aitken Creek Primary School?
We began the EAL Coffee and Chat program as we found that many of our non-English speaking families were missing out on information, even though we translated as much as possible and posted it on Compass. The information from the school sometimes assumed a level of knowledge and understanding about school practices that our new arrival families may be unfamiliar with.
During 2020, and as remote learning was a work in progress, there were sometimes changes being made quickly that weren’t being communicated in an accessible way to the non-English speaking parent/carer community via Compass. This made it difficult for our non-English speaking parents to keep on top of what was happening. Parents were all asking the same questions of MEAs when they made their regular checkup calls, so we thought that it would be more time efficient to answer these questions during a group session.
We started the online EAL Coffee and Chat on Webex as a way to keep in touch and would communicate any school changes during our fortnightly sessions. Now that we are back at school, the Coffee and Chat program is continuing face to face. This is definitely our preference, but it was great to be able to adapt this online when we needed to.
What does a typical session involve?
During 2020, the parents decided during the first session that they would like to hold the sessions fortnightly. We had a number of parents of students across the school regularly attending. Our EAL, MEA and Wellbeing staff would put together a little blurb about the upcoming topic of discussion and this would be translated and communicated to parents on Compass ahead of time. We also personally emailed each of our Arabic/Assyrian speaking parents to ensure they were receiving the information, which included the Webex link and meeting number.
We asked parents to suggest topics they would like to discuss, and they varied each session. Some of the topics were:
- how to support your child at home through remote learning
- what the academic day during remote learning looks like
- we explained some of the regular events/activities happening i.e. Fun Fridays/Wellbeing Wednesdays and what the children were expected to do
- we provided links to websites offering resources for the CALD community
- how to ensure your child’s safety while working online
- getting and keeping connected with your community
- we explained how ‘three way conferences’ would operate remotely
- we provided them with information and practical instructions about how to access the Banskia Gardens Homework Club
- what to expect when returning to on-site learning.
Each session was also attended by our Wellbeing Officer who provided information about student wellbeing issues such as how to reduce anxiety in your child, how to maintain motivation, how to maintain mental health, emotional parenting, building empathy and respect in the home. We found that the wellbeing sessions were hugely successful with the parents.
What are the benefits of the Coffee and Chat program?
The sessions were very beneficial for both parents and the school. Parents were able to reduce their feelings of isolation as they had the opportunity to connect with people outside of their home. They were able to have any questions or queries clarified thus reducing their level of anxiety, as well as increasing their confidence in supporting their child/ren during remote learning. It also provided them with the opportunity to network with others in their community and to receive and share advice as to how to emotional support their child/ren while also taking care of their own emotional needs. From our schools’ perspective, it provided us with valuable information regarding how our parents and students were managing remote learning on an academic and emotional level so that we could then best support our students and families.
What advice would you give to other schools who are looking to establish a similar program?
Implementing an EAL Coffee ’n’ Chat program, whether it be online or onsite, is highly valuable for everyone involved. It provides opportunities for information sharing and networking, thus making the EAL community a greater and stronger presence in the school.