Riccarton High School’s cohort includes over 80 ethnicities. At present, the school has about 100 Chinese, 100 Māori and over 120 Filipino students, as well as a diverse Pasifika and Middle Eastern community. About 48 per cent of the students identify as New Zealand European.

Cultural diversity facilitator Zainab Tayyab.

To meet the needs of each cultural group, the school created a ‘cultural diversity facilitator’ position about a year ago. The new facilitator, Zainab Tayyab, is a few months into the role and says the work is multi-faceted.

“I’ve met quite a few people from the Office of Ethnic Communities and multicultural councils so we’re trying to form a relationship with them because they’re quite well established in supporting the different ethnic communities,” she says.

“We’ve just recently conducted surveys with the staff team and everyone’s on board with things like teachers needing more information about our ethnic groups that we don’t often realise, so it would come down to getting more professional development opportunities for our staff.”

Zainab has also conducted surveys amongst students to hear about their cultural experience within the school.

“The staff work hard to develop these relationships through the curriculum and extracurricular activities. It’s not just the key events… we’ve got established kapa haka groups and Pasifika groups in addition to Chinese dance forms and Filipino dance forms, so every group is getting their own sort of cultural acknowledgement and that promotes a sense of inclusiveness.”

Although most schools do have support staff, such as counsellors, a cultural diversity facilitator can provide support to those students who may not feel comfortable going to others.

“There’s lots of students where it’s kind of culturally not accepted to go to a counsellor, so by creating a position like this within the school you have a less formal person or team to go to, to facilitate that conversation.”

Coordinated approach

Head of English Language Learners Angela Bland initially proposed the position after trying to connect with her diverse student communities, on top of her role in the classroom and as a head of department.

Riccarton High School’s cohort includes students from over 80 ethnicities.

“Currently within our education system or within our education structures within schools, there are no specific roles which are deliberately attached to engaging culturally diverse communities. There are in companies, for example, ASB or BNZ, and those companies often have roles which will do that, but there was no role of this type within the schooling system. We felt we were very ad hoc in our approach to how we were engaging our communities,” she says.

“We felt we really needed a coordinated approach to issues such as how you engage 120 Filipino families about NCEA or understanding school systems and drawing in their culture in a positive way.”

Enabling equitable access

The initial 21 goals proposed were refined to eight. One of these goals was to enable equitable access to school administration, information and key documents.

“Usually everything in a school is in English. One of the goals is to actually have a number of those documents translated into different languages and we’re working towards that. Another thing is accurate data and what you’ll find across the country is that a lot of the data in our school systems is actually inaccurate with regards to different groups and languages spoken at home. Some students or families will tick ‘English spoken at home’ [even if it isn’t],” Angela says.

The school has developed eight goals to help enable equitable access.

Another initiative focuses on home languages. The school has established a Filipino literacy and cultural class, and one-on-one Farsi language classes for its refugee Farsi speakers. A Pasifika studies course facilitates bilingualism of Tongan, Samoan, Fijian.

“The information that is out there is in English and we obviously encourage home language at home, but it does mean that we as a school have to make sure that we are providing an evening whereby we have maybe two or three senior students and two other bilingual support teachers that we have in the school. We had the parents working in groups and so they had some questions about NCEA and there was some translating and making sure that information was being conveyed in a way that is understandable,” Angela says.

“Another initiative alongside of that is one of our bilingual Chinese support teachers did a project on wellbeing, interviewing students and finding out how they’re feeling at school and what are their needs are. The whole wellbeing element is key to this, absolutely key.”

Fostering relationships

Principal Neil Haywood says having a cultural diversity facilitator helps to foster relationships and acknowledges the different groups within the school.

“Our community is continually growing and it is who we are. We are, I suppose you could use the term, a super-diverse community,” he says.

“These different groups quite often have different needs in terms of the education environment here, so if we put them all in together quite often that gets lost.

“If we bring them in, we’ve got the time, we bring in the translators as well (we’re fortunate to have that), we can spend some extra time and explain the concepts and build that relationship.”

The school hosted its first cultural festival at the beginning of the year, in which about 20–30 cultural groups from the school and wider community performed.

“Celebrating that culture diversity, but also the ability to bring a community together of such diverse nature,” Neil says.

“Before we even start to focus on student achievement the key thing is relationships. With such a diverse range of families out there, the first thing we wanted to focus on was that sense of belonging where they’ll feel comfortable walking through the front door and that they feel part of the school community, so we really needed someone who could focus on that in both a formal sense and informal sense.”

The school is continuing to identify the needs of each group and ways to provide the necessary assistance and support.

“We’re still finding our way with that and that’s through discussion, getting them to firstly feel comfortable here to voice their opinions and identify what’s happening in their lives – everyone from people who just might have been here for a week to might have been here for a couple of years already,” Neil says.

“Other things have popped up too through it. For example, some parents have said simply ‘you know, we’d love to get some outside advice on budgeting’ so using community services and just talking to people about adapting to a new sort of environment and lifestyle in New Zealand.”

A point of contact

As well as creating awareness of the school’s diverse community, the facilitator also provides a point of contact for students, teacher and whānau.

“I think, as that survey has pointed out, teachers do genuinely struggle, you know:
‘I need to contact this parent, how do I? What’s the right way to do it? Who can I talk to within our team here who can contact the parents?’. It’s really working out those processes which actually facilitate that communication between home and school,” he says.

“It was interesting this year (and we noticed a change last year too) with our parent interview days, just the numbers coming through the doors, such a diverse range of people. Typically those communities were staying away, because for some of them it’s a sense of intimidation, coming to a school like this and a system they’re just not familiar with.

“You just have to talk to those families. The relationship still has a long way to go but you can see the relationship is developing because you’re seeing more and more of them.”

Source: Education Gazette

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