Part one

Mabior is 15 years old and in Term 3 of Year 10 at secondary college. He was born in Australia shortly after his parents arrived on humanitarian visas. He has four siblings and the family live together in a new outer suburb of Melbourne.

Mabior’s mother Mary fled the former Sudan with her brother and mother when she was 15 years old after her father and two brothers were executed in front of her by a militia group. She met Mabior’s father Bosco in the refugee camp in northern Kenya, where the couple lived for nine years.

The family have been in Australia for 16 years. Over the years, Mary and Bosco have successfully raised their children and supported other recently arrived families. Mabior’s 22-year-old sister Elizabeth is now an accountant. His 17-year-old sister Rebecca has left school and his two younger brothers are in Grades 6 and 4.

Mary and Bosco never had formal schooling and are unable to read or write in their home language. They have limited understanding of the schooling system in Australia and have faced language barriers engaging with their children’s schooling.

Throughout Mabior’s life, his mother Mary has struggled with trauma-related symptoms in response to witnessing horrific violence. Mabior worries about her: ‘My mother often talks about the war. I don’t like it. Every time she starts talking, she cries, and it makes me upset too.’

Mabior and his older sisters carry out many duties in the home, including looking after their younger brothers. Meanwhile, his father Bosco is often away working long hours.

Mabior finds it challenging choosing between spending time with his friends and his family responsibilities. In recent years, with his older sisters less present, he has felt burdened by responsibilities for his family. Now in Year 10, he feels his parents do not understand that he needs to do homework and is less able to look after his siblings.

Mabior enjoys school. He is a good public speaker and next year hopes to be the Year 11 class captain. To be elected he has to give a speech in front of his peers. He is good at Maths and likes Mr Harper, his Maths teacher. Sometimes he speaks to Mr Harper about his future goals.

This morning, on the way to school, he got off the bus early because three older boys from another school provoked him saying, ‘Go back to Africa where you came from.’ This was the third time in the past month he’d heard such comments – which usually make him feel small. But this time he felt particularly insignificant and scared. He felt that he didn’t belong.

He arrived late to Homegroup class and the teacher, Ms Connor, told him off. Mabior threw his bag against the wall, tipped a chair over and walked out of the classroom. The teacher went looking for Mabior and found him sitting in the quad with his headphones on. Ms Connor told Mabior that he must go back to class and there would be consequences for his actions. Mabior walked away.

Part two

Mabior waits for his Period 2 class with Mr Harper. When Mabior appears at the classroom door, Mr Harper looks up and smiles. Mabior quietly sits and starts on the Maths worksheet the other students are completing.

The bell goes for recess and Mr Harper, having picked-up that Mabior is troubled, asks him to stay back for a few minutes. Mr Harper asks, ‘How are you today?’, but Mabior, not knowing what to say, simply responds, ‘Okay.’ Mr Harper is concerned about Mabior, having observed his withdrawal from class discussions over the past month.

During recess, Mr Harper has a brief chat with Ms Connor the Homegroup teacher who explains what happened earlier. He suggests that they meet with the wellbeing coordinator and Year 10 coordinator to discuss ways to support Mabior. The wellbeing coordinator is aware Mabior has been through a lot and seeks advice from the school’s multicultural education aide (MEA), who suggests they meet with Mabior and his parents.

The MEA telephones Bosco and explains the nature of the meeting and that an interpreter will be provided by the school. During the meeting Mabior says that he is anxious about his Year 10 work experience because, unlike many other students, he has been unable to find a placement. He also does not know what VCE subjects to choose.

Mr Harper encourages the Year 10 coordinator to organise senior school staff to participate in some professional learning around supporting refugee background students and their families.

The wellbeing coordinator links Mabior with the school’s career adviser, who assists him to find work experience at an engineering company. The school MEA keeps in touch with Mabior’s parents and invites them to a barbecue for Year 10 EAL/CALD families. During the barbecue the school principal greets parents and (with interpreters) asks for parents to suggest how the school can better support their children. The parents want to learn about career pathways for their children.

A careers information session (with interpreters) is held for students and parents from EAL/CALD backgrounds to help them understand the range of options that are available. The school invites Mabior’s oldest sister Elizabeth to share how she became an accountant. Evidently, her talk inspires attendees and brings much pride to Mary, Bosco and Mabior.

The school holds a consultation with the senior students around their experiences of racism in the community. A student-led harmony committee (comprising EAL/CALD and non-CALD students) is subsequently set up and Mabior actively participates. This results in the school partnering with the local youth services agency to run a series of events during Harmony Week.

By the end of Term 4, Mabior has built a trusting relationship with his Homegroup teacher Ms Connor, who is now determined to better understand the challenges her EAL/CALD students experience. She and Mabior work together to find ways in which he can calm down if he feels overwhelmed. Importantly, he feels that his Homegroup teacher is on his side. He now trusts her and can tell her if he experiences racism or other problems at school.