Connecting school and community

Issue: Volume 98, Number 18

Posted: 28 October 2019
Reference #: 1HA18K

If you have the good fortune to visit Amuri Area School in North Canterbury on your birthday,
you may find yourself being serenaded in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines.

Maligayang Bati – Happy Birthday – is a class showpiece, and, whispers bilingual support worker Leila Tumamao, visitors are allowed to claim that it is their birthday, even when it isn’t.

Leila is one of 50 bilingual support workers who have been employed by the Ministry of Education in a pilot programme to support new migrant students in state and state-integrated schools.

Her students are happy to show what they’ve learned.

“How do we say thank you?” she asks. “Salamat,” the class choruses back. “How many people live in the Philippines?” Hands go up. “One hundred and three million,” offers a boy. “What is a saging?” “A banana.”

Leila’s 10-hour-a-week position embraces several roles, says migrant student coordinator Claire McCarthy.

Part of her role is working with new students. Sometimes Claire and Leila work with individual students and sometimes with small groups, helping them settle in, master English and come to grips with the school curriculum and culture. “One of our little girls has only been in New Zealand a fortnight,” says Claire.

Education valued

Principal James Griggs moved to Amuri Area School from Christchurch in 2015, attracted by the lifestyle. His school draws students from the surrounding district, most arriving by bus. They range from Year 1 to Year 13 and mirror the changing face of the community.

These days, 37 of the school’s 347 students are Filipino. James says that as a group they tend to do well, something he puts down to parents placing a high value on education.

“If you put in some intensive time when the children first arrive to help them overcome the language barrier, they fly,” he says. “Two years ago, the school dux was one of our Filipino students.”

James credits much the success of the students to the dedication of coordinator Claire McCarthy, who completed a postgraduate qualification in teaching English in schools to speakers of other languages in 2015.

“We had the right person and a supportive school board. It was just a matter of giving her the time and resources and getting out of the way,” says James.

It was Claire’s work that led to the Ministry of Education’s favourable review of the school’s provision for its English language learners, and the school being selected as part of the bilingual support worker pilot programme.

In early 2018, James and Claire wrote the job description for their new staff member and posted it in local newsletter The Peril. Leila was the ideal candidate. She has a broader, often after-hours, role as a bridge between the school, Amuri’s longstanding residents, and the Filipino community. She has also worked at the Culverden tearooms. “In some ways, she was already doing the job we wanted,” says Claire.

Community ‘connector’

In 2017 Leila worked with Claire to bring Filipino parents to a series of reading together workshops. These were a serious commitment for time-constrained families, where one partner might rise at 4am to milk cows and the other was commuting to work in Hanmer. But the workshops were a great success and led to parents being committed to helping their children read at home

In 2014, when the Ministry of Social Development conducted a series of public consultations with residents of Hurunui District – of which Culverden and the Amuri Basin are a part – one of the issues often raised was the need for ‘connectors’ in the community.

The need became even greater in the wake of damage and distress caused by the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. Leila is one of those connectors.

Celebrating cultures

Amuri Area School has a tradition of celebrating the cultures of its migrant students. When Claire first arrived at the school 11 years ago, most of those students were Fijian Indian. The school celebrated that culture with a Diwali festival. Sri Lankan culture was celebrated with a Vesak Poya, or festival of lights.

Last August, it was the turn of Filipino culture, with the school marking Buwan ng Wika or Filipino Language Month. During this time, the school’s Year 1 to 6 students explored the Philippines as part of their social sciences curriculum, and Year 6 and 7 students built model bahay kubo – traditional stilt houses.

Bilingual Support Worker Programme

The Bilingual Support Worker Programme is a Ministry of Education pilot which employs 50 part-time staff across New Zealand. The workers help migrant students come to grips with The New Zealand Curriculum.

The workers are also points of connection with parents and the wider community. As part of the programme, they must complete the Ministry’s Working with English Language Learners modules. These are designed to help teacher aides and bilingual tutors achieve best practice in supporting English language learners from migrant and refugee backgrounds.

This is an edited version of an article first published by Immigration New Zealand in Settlement ACTIONZ in 2018.  

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:31 am, 28 October 2019

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