‘You have friends’: Birmingham school scheme aims to reduce refugee trauma

Many students who come to Jema Patel’s classroom at Birmingham’s City Academy do not speak.

“When students first come to us, they don’t talk often, they don’t communicate,” he said during a break from teaching verbs. “It’s not because they can’t, but because they haven’t necessarily felt capable before.”

She is the Assistant Head of Core Hello, a pioneering program run by the Core Education Trust in September 2021 for newly arrived refugee and immigrant children who need additional support to settle permanently in school life in the UK.

Over a period of more than 12 weeks, students are taught basic survival language skills, taken on trips to the city center for cultural adaptations, and are assisted in any emotional trauma they may experience before returning to mainstream school.

The trust has accepted a number of students who have come to the UK since the Taliban took over Afghanistan last year, and says it is open to hosting Ukrainian refugees.

“It’s not just a language barrier, it’s dealing with everything that goes through them. It is very painful for young people just to be moved and rehabilitated, let’s come from a country that has turbulent or war experience, “said Shell-McLeod, principal of City Academy School. “But we’ve found with Core Hello, in a short time they’ve made progress that could take a year or two in a typical school setting.”

With three staff members for 20 students, he said, it was a “huge investment as a trust”, but it made it easier to identify trauma symptoms and make sure students were able to integrate into normal school life when they were ready. . .

“When they first come, we do an activity where we ask them about themselves and we ask them who their friends are. Often they won’t be able to name anyone,” Patel said. “And then we say, ‘ John has friends. And it’s really nice for them to realize that. “

Noman (left) and his brother Salman in school uniforms
Salman (right) and his brother Noman fled the Taliban last summer. Photo: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

Previous research has shown that refugee and asylum-seeking children experience long delays in entering education after arriving in the UK, while their education is affected by trauma and mental health problems, bullying and a lack of awareness and skills among some school staff.

As the number of immigrants and refugees in Birmingham increases, Core Hello hopes the school will provide an example of how it can better help these students.

During English lessons on Wednesday mornings, students use their drawn timeline to explain their journey to the UK. Most draw flags around the world, perhaps their country’s highest mountain or national sport, in some cases war and attack, and all end with a picture of a home Britain.

“At school in Afghanistan, I had a friend and I was the captain of the cricket team,” said Salman, a 9-year-old student who started attending City Academy with his younger brother Noman after their family fled the Taliban last summer. “We had to come to the UK on a flight and stay in a hotel in London which was very busy and crowded. I started school here and now we can finally live safely. “

Syed had to flee leaving his parents in Afghanistan because the Taliban were ready to take control.  He eventually traveled across Europe for 17 months to reach his uncle's home in Birmingham.
Saeed traveled 17 months across Europe to reach his uncle’s home in Birmingham. Photo: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

As part of the school work, Salman wrote about how “Birmingham is much safer than Afghanistan because there are traffic lights for crossing the road”, which he was not used to.

At the Jewelry Quarters Academy, one of the core trust’s schools, Saeed, a 10-year-old student, said he traveled alone across Europe and spent months in a Calais refugee camp after his parents sent him away from Afghanistan for safety.

“I didn’t want to leave my parents, but I had to,” he said, speaking in Pashto, translated by a classmate. “I had to travel alone and I was scared. [In Calais] The police kept hitting us and pushing us back. There was no food, so we had to eat apples and drink rainwater. “

She now lives with her uncle in Birmingham and is slowly settling into school life, where her favorite subject is mathematics. He said that he likes to go to the park after school and play cricket.

Jamie Burton, headmaster of the Jewelry Quarters Academy, said: “We have a responsibility to support children who have escaped persecution. Take Sayed – who has traveled thousands of miles without a partner to escape the Taliban – if we can’t give him a home as a school, who will?

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