A volunteer program to support the English language and literacy skills of young refugees has been expanded in regional NSW due to the support of students at Charles Sturt University (CSU).
An initiative of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF), the award-winning Refugee Action Support (RAS) program began as a trial at one high school in Wagga Wagga in 2009. It later expanded to include primary school students from refugee backgrounds.
Initially, third year CSU teacher education students worked as volunteer literacy and learning tutors in the Riverina region but the RAS program has been expanded to include students from other CSU degrees including social work, speech pathology and radiology.
One of the long term RAS volunteers in Wagga Wagga is CSU third year teacher education student Ms Amy Hickey-Buchanan.
"I can see the benefits for the young student I am currently mentoring because she's so bright and bubbly and she likes to ask me lots of questions," said Ms Hickey-Buchanan.
"In a large classroom, shy kids don't always get the chance to speak-up but on a one-to-one basis, it's much easier to ask."
"The Refugee Action Support program is also making me a better teacher so I can see the positives for everyone involved."
Mr Eric Brace, from the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation said, "This program is vital for refugees to have individualised mentors so they can unpack the language skills needed in the Australian school system as well as the trauma of the refugee journey."
Once the training is complete, each volunteer tutor agrees to go into a school for two to three hours a week for a minimum of eight to 10 weeks and in some cases up to 12 weeks.
The program focuses on supporting the emotional and practical needs of young learners such as how to read and write in an academic way.
CSU RAS program coordinator Dr Kip Langat the University's School of Education said the program had helped hundreds of students since its inception.
"We look at research into transition and what are the conditions that allow students to fit in," said Dr Langat.
"This is not the only program that we run but this one demonstrates Charles Sturt University's commitment to its engagement with our communities on a number of levels."
He added, "The program is about enabling the young refugees to transition to a better life. It is not easy for many of these students to transition into a new education system as we don't all have the same start in life. It encourages me that Charles Sturt University students and the wider community are willing to give these families a go."
"We have previously struggled to get support so it is now very gratifying that different communities are wanting to help us and asking for student mentors."
"Research is this area supports the need for teachers as well as mentors and a good quality education program to enable students from a refugee background to transition through primary to high school and on to university.
"It also shows that building relationships is really important to help with the bonding process and extending social networks leads to confidence building and helps to lessen the impact of trauma," said Dr Langat.
In a book about transitioning into higher education to be published later this year, Dr Langat examines the need for universities to broaden their community-university partnerships especially with regard to supporting refugee students into the Australian education system.
The Refugee Action Support program is supported by ALNF, CSU, and the NSW Department of Education. Read more here.
The 2015-2017 Refugee Action Support program across NSW is supported by the Federal Government.
Media contact: Fiona Halloran , (02) 6933 2207
Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews with Dr Kip Langat from the CSU School of Education in Wagga Wagga.
Photo: CSU academic Dr Kip Langat with CSU teacher education student Ms Amy Hickey-Buchanan.