On certain afternoons, pedestrians wandering down South Road in Melbourne’s suburb of Braybrook might stop to wonder at the sound of drums, hip-hop and young women’s laughter coming across the campus lawn of the Western English Language School. Jacinda Richards, the school’s Recreation Officer, who leads the school’s new after-school program, “Move & Groove to Get Fit & Healthy” would warmly welcome new students to register interest in the program.
The school is for Melbourne’s new immigrant students, many for whom English is a second language. Jacinda first came up with the idea of a free, fun musical program for young migrant women as a way to help them integrate into their community. From drums, dance instructors, sound equipment, sporting gear and catering – the school simply didn’t have the cash to cover costs. And that’s where Coca-Cola Australia Foundation stepped in. As Jacinda said, the grant has been something of a boon.
“The grant money has been awesome,” she said. “It’s all going towards running after-school recreation programs. We’ll be offering stuff like African djembe drumming, hip-hop dance, basketball and a Young Women’s Program.”
Bridging the gap
As Jacinda explained, most of the WELS’s students are aged between 12-18, and come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD) who are in the early stages of settlement in Australia. “These fun, engaging activities help them adjust to Australian society,” she said.
Students attend WELS for six months to a year before they enter mainstream education in surrounding schools.
“We build their confidence, self-esteem, mental and physical health, and their nutritional knowledge. We’ve also found it helps break down social barriers,” said Jacinda.
For Jacinda, teaching dance and helping young refugee women is more than just a job – it’s a vocation. “I started teaching hip-hop dance workshops about 12 years ago, and I was overwhelmed with the joy it gave youth who come from such very different backgrounds– music and dance was the one common thread,” she said. “My commitment to working with the CALD community – specifically migrant and refugee youth – gained momentum, and eventually it turned out to be a full-time job! I am inspired every day by the students I have.”
Born to dance
Already the after-hours programs have made a big difference. “Every individual takes something away from it,” said Jacinta, and added that it inspires students to realise they are capable of things they may previously have not considered possible. “Through supported access we are able to foster talents and help these kids pursue their dreams. Many of the kids in our hip-hop program have wound up joining the dance school Limbs2Riddims and performed on some of Melbourne’s biggest entertainment venues, such as the BMW edge, The Arts Centre and Federation Square,” she said.
If you’d like to donate money, equipment or services to the Western English Language School, please contact Jacinda Richards on (03) 93119325 or firstname.lastname@example.org