HELPING children from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds feel they are welcome and belong at their new schools will assist with their personal development and improve their learning, say University of Newcastle researchers.
UON's Dr Maura Sellars said she and colleagues Professor John Fischetti and Associate Professor Scott Imig were "privileged" to interview principals in Australia, Northern Ireland, the USA, UK and New Zealand about what has worked in their schools and collate their experiences in the book Creating Spaces of Wellbeing and Belonging for Refugee and Asylum-Seeker Students: Skills and Strategies for School Leaders.
They also have a Facebook group for educators to share their experiences.
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"We have a lot of evidence to show that emotion rules cognition, so unless children are happy or feel they belong or they're part of something, it's very difficult for them to learn effectively, it's very difficult to be the outsider," Dr Sellars said.
"The whole understanding of belonging is not just a warm fuzzy feeling, it's about respect and dignity, it's acknowledgement of who people are and it's about acceptance of multiple degrees of difference, so you're not excluded because of your language, your skin colour, your way of doing, your way of understanding the world. It's about a feeling of safety - emotional safety as well as physical safety - to be who you are."
She said integration, not assimilation, had proven most successful "psychologically and socially in terms of outcomes".
Dr Sellars said when these children arrived at schools they were often "living in two worlds" and at a disadvantage.
Many have experienced trauma after displacement, loss, seeing their parents stressed and violent acts, plus having to run from danger.
This trauma could make it difficult for them to sleep and settle, or lead to them being inattentive or hyper vigilent.
"They don't really have much experience and many links to be able to assess and 'play the game' at school if you like, understand what school is about and what its requirements are and the hidden curriculum of what you do at lunchtime, who plays with who on the playground and where you're allowed."
Dr Sellars said schools had a range of measures, which started with forming positive relationships at initial meetings and included learning English through an art program and modifications of uniforms.
She said one school changed its staggered lunchtimes, because it noticed an eldest sibling brought the day's food for their younger siblings.
"It's not just a tokenistic 'We have an international day once a year' but ways in which every day these children were respected and valued as part of the school community."
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