This project was initiated by Catholic Education South Australia (CESA) with the African Catholic Council and Archdiocese of Adelaide in response to concerns that some African-Australian families were experiencing barriers in accessing Catholic education for their children, and some families whose children were in Catholic schools were experiencing challenges in communicating with schools. The Cabrini Collective, a funded program to increase engagement with African-Australian families and to improve outcomes for students, was introduced in four Catholic schools in 2018. These schools all have a significant number of students from diverse backgrounds and make use of a range of approaches to support these students.
Through the Cabrini Collective, the schools implemented a range of additional strategies and provided additional support to students and families with the aim of improving the engagement of families and outcomes for students. These included: structured language support from classroom teachers, the employment of a community liaison officer, changes to communication approaches with families, and discussion forums with the African-Australian community to improve staff understanding of the community and their needs.
Through the use of online surveys and focus groups with staff, students and families at the Cabrini Collective schools, this project identified a range of school approaches that can foster improved communication with families and engagement of families and students. These strategies include:
- building understanding of the diversity of student and family experiences and knowledges through staff engaging in conversations with families
- building understanding of the diversity of student and family experiences and knowledges through pedagogical strategies which enable students to explore and express their experiences, languages and histories
- building relationships with families and students underpinned by a knowledge of family and student diversity
- employing staff, such as cultural liaison officers, who can help to facilitate staff learning about culturally diverse communities within the school, and to build rapport and communication with these communities
- using multiple communication strategies ranging from face-to-face formal and informal meetings to online communication, which might be assisted by translators when required
- following up on communication when no response is received
- fostering a school environment where all students and families feel valued.
While the project was based on the schools that participated in the Cabrini Collective and the research specifically focused on the African-Australian community, the practices described can be used by all schools working with families and students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, with care taken to recognise the diversity of experiences within these communities.