For nearly a decade, the Armidale EAL/D (English as an Additional Language or Dialect) Homework Centre’s hard-working volunteers have helped students from non-English-speaking backgrounds improve their language skills.
Their dedication was recognised at the 2018 New England / Northern Inland volunteer awards on Friday afternoon, when they were named Team of the Year.
“It was a huge honour,” coordinator Fay Peris said. “We were pitted against 109 other nominations, with some very good nominations amongst them.”
The Centre received the Alwyn Jones Community Award earlier in the year.
About 30 students a week come to the Centre at the Drummond Memorial Public School.
Some are the children of international university students, speaking Arabic, Tagalog, Spanish, German, Polish, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Bhutanese, and African languages at home.
“The university attracts students from all over the world, and some of those bring their families with them,” Fay said.
The newest arrivals are Kurdish Kumanji-speaking refugees from Iraq and Syria.
“Refugee students have a long road ahead of them,” Fay said. It can take them twice as long to master academic English as other international students. “This support can make all the difference to them.”
The children get to speak with a native English teacher for an hour and a half.
“That can be more time spent speaking and listening in English one on one than they might get with their own classroom teacher in the whole week,” Fay said.
Many of those 30 volunteers are teachers or university lecturers, some retired; some are university students; and some are working people from different walks of life.
“Some say it’s the best time of their week,” Fay said.
“I try to make it a one-to-one relationship, and with the same volunteer each week, so they really build up a strong working partnership. The volunteer gets to know the child, what their strengths are, and where they need more time and effort.”
If they don't have homework, the Centre also offers other activities that encourage speaking and listening, numeracy, and literacy, so they can practice what they're learning at school, and build up their skills.
The Refugee Homework Centre, as it was then called, was set up in 2009 by Northern Settlement Services and Armidale Sanctuary Humanitarian Settlement, as a response to the Sudanese refugees arriving at that time.
Now the Centre is funded mainly by Northern Settlement Services, yearly donations from UNE, and grants from other funding bodies.
“We’re always looking for more volunteers!” Fay said.
If you are interested, contact Northern Settlement Services on 6771 3975. You must undergo a Working with Children check and a police check, but do not need any teaching experience.
Fay wanted to thank the Centre for Volunteering, who organised the awards; the schools, who refer their children; the parents, who transport their children to the Homework Centre and pick them up; and Northern Settlement Services, for their great support.