Aadem was five years old when he came to Australia from Kenya, where his family was living in a refugee camp. His family is from South Sudan, but they had to flee their village when Aadem was three months old. His father was killed before they fled, and Aadem has no memory of him.
Aadem’s two younger sisters have a different father to him. Aadem bonded strongly with his ‘new’ father, but has not seen him since the family left the refugee camp.
Now in Grade 5, Aadem lives with his mother, his older brother and his sisters with whom he attends the same primary school. Since moving to Australia, Aadem has lived in six houses and attended two primary schools.
In week three of Term 1, Aadem was involved in an altercation with other students at the start of a school day. Not for the first time, he was sent to the principal’s office, along with two other boys. The principal called them into her office individually and asked them what happened. She then called all three boys in and said she didn’t know what to do with them. It was the third time that week they’d been sent to her for fighting, and nothing the school was doing seemed to be helping. She told them everyone tried very hard to help them, and that they were lucky to come to such a good school.
As punishment, she banned them from playing soccer at lunchtime for two weeks. She also sent them to different classes for the morning, telling them if they behaved they could go back to their normal classrooms after recess. She added that if they were involved in any more fighting she would send them home, and that she was seriously considering whether this was the right school for them.
Aadem was sent to a Grade 2 class for the morning. He was hungry because his visit to the principal meant he’d missed the breakfast program he usually attended. He was also annoyed to be in a class with ‘babies’, and angry because he felt unfairly punished: the principal hadn’t cared that all he’d done in the altercation was yell.
His frustration continued all morning: he thought the teachers weren’t fair and that they sent him to the principal’s office even when he hadn’t done anything. He hated getting into trouble every day and he didn’t think any teachers liked him; that they just saw him as a troublemaker.
Aadem remembered he did like some things about school, especially having kids to play soccer with, and all the good sports equipment he got to use. He also liked hearing Harry Potter read aloud; he wanted to be a good reader so he could do well at high school. He did worry about going to high school next year, but thought it might be okay because he would be with his brothers. He also thought his new Grade 5 teacher was all right; she was gentle and smiled at him sometimes.
In the Grade 2 class the teacher told everyone to draw a picture of the country their family was from. Aadem didn’t want to do it because he thought drawing was for babies. And, anyway, he couldn’t remember anything about the country he had come from.
‘Come on Aadem,’ the teacher said. ‘Draw us a nice big picture of Africa. Africa is a beautiful country and we’d love to have your picture in our room too.’
As soon as the recess bell rang, Aadem ran out the door. The teacher followed him and told him to come back and sit on the mat until she said everyone could leave. He sat on the back of the mat, holding onto a chair leg. The teacher told him to let go, sit closer to her and cross his legs.
After recess, Aadem was allowed to go back to his Grade 5 classroom. His teacher smiled at him. ‘Hi, Aadem,’ she said. ‘It’s great to see you. I’m glad you’re here because we’re going to read the next chapter of our class book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets …’
Aadem was glad he hadn’t missed any of story time. He loved Harry Potter and couldn’t wait for every new chapter the teacher read.