Refugee Week takes place annually in June and celebrates refugees' contribution to the UK. Joanna De Regibus, EMA co-ordinator at Hampstead school, north London, spoke to Janina Struk about how the week has developed over the past decade.
"I had the idea for a Refugee Week event at Hampstead School in the late 1990s. I wanted to celebrate the different cultures and languages at the school. More than half our 1,300 students are EAL (English as an additional language) learners, with over 20 per cent from refugee backgrounds. Seventy-two languages are spoken by pupils from 95 countries.
My job as ethnic minority achievement team coordinator is to help bilingual students follow the curriculum and achieve their best. I also run the New Arrivals Excellence Programme for students in Britain for less than a year.
In 2001 we held our first 'international evening' in the school library. The school band played and we encouraged a few EAL students to write or read a poem in their mother tongue about their country and experiences. The students were excited and welcomed the opportunity to share their language and culture and show off their knowledge and skills. It gave them confidence. The evening was immensely enjoyable and the pupils, staff and parents attending were impressed.
A lack of English language skills often prevents students from being able to show their intelligence and capacity to learn. Monolingual students and teaching staff sometimes don't appreciate how difficult it is to study in a foreign language. Bilingualism is not a learning difficulty; it is an asset to be appreciated and respected.
None of the ethnic minority achievement team has English as a first language a real advantage. Abdi Shire, the home-school co-ordinator, is from Somalia, Tamazer Kavrut is a Turkish speaker and Tahira Hameed speaks Urdu. I am Polish and have worked at the school since 1991.
In 2004 we began to develop a whole school approach to international evening. We contacted staff and encouraged monolingual students to get involved. We sent out invitations to parents in Somali, Urdu, Polish and English, asking them to bring along a dish from their country of origin. Students were encouraged to produce an autobiographical project on My Country. The response was overwhelming.
The event is now held in the large school hall, which we decorate with flags and a display of My Country projects. We arrange candlelit tables for the dishes brought by parents. Last year we had an audience of 300 parents, as more than 40 students took part in three hours of dance, theatre, traditional songs and music. Some read their own poems, which are always popular and very moving. The atmosphere was fantastic.
International evening has had a huge impact on school life, creating a partnership between support and mainstream staff and influencing teaching and learning strategies. We have created links with the community. Parents from ethnic minorities are involved with other school activities.
Last year we had our first Pakistani parents' evening. We now have an annual Somali parents' event. This year a Somali parent gave a presentation to parents of children new to the school about how to best support their learning at home. And in March we had the first joint Bangladeshi and Pakistani parents' evening.
This year's international evening will act as a grand finale to a new school initiative, Arts Week, in July. Instead of lessons students will take part in workshops to explore multicultural themes. Hampstead School is enriched by its cultural diversity and everyone is benefiting."
Refugee Week 2008 takes place from 18 to 22 June. Find out more at www.refugee week.org.uk.
For more about the New Arrivals Excellence Programme visit www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/primary/publications/inclusion/naep.