The trained Italian and English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EALD) teacher, says she gets great satisfaction from seeing how students absorb languages and start to own the English language.
“It’s a privilege to be part of that journey with students from all countries who migrate here and all come with different stories – all unified by the need to speak English to move ahead in our society.”
For more than 20 years, Antonina has worked at Sydney Catholic Schools. She is currently the coordinator of the CIEC based at Holy Spirit College Lakemba where there are three classes of students. The students are migrants and refugees from Syria, Ghana, Vietnam, the Cook Islands, Ecuador and Hong Kong. Sydney Catholic Schools also operates CIECs at Mary Mackillop College Wakeley and Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield, which Antonina helped to set up.
All the students come from different education systems and experiences of learning and many of the refugee students have had their schooling interrupted for up to four years. Each one will spend up to three terms at the CIEC to learn English and prepare them for their new life in Australia and at a Sydney Catholic secondary school.
Antonina’s role includes enrolling, assessing and teaching the students, coordinating the Lakemba centre, timetabling, liaising with the Catholic high schools where the students are enrolled, supporting the CIEC teachers, learning support officers and volunteers, administration and ensuring that the pastoral care needs of the students are met.
Joanna Katsaros, teacher at the CIEC at Holy Spirit College, says Antonina is exceptional.
“She set up the centre here at Lakemba and runs the show, teaching as well, assessing students, being the coordinator, and supporting the kids. She goes above and beyond in her work here.”
Passionate about teaching English to new arrivals, Antonina says she enjoys being able to break down language and build it up again.
“I also like being aware of how the English language compares to other languages the students speak and how that helps them in their English language progression.”
She says the teachers are forever evaluating and adjusting their teaching – term by term, at times week by week to ensure the range of topics they teach, meet the students’ needs but also extend their learning.
“We also ensure their pastoral needs are met as that is a very important component as if students don’t feel settled and safe in their environment no learning can happen. Often the refugee students will take a longer period of time to settle in a new school and classroom.”
The CIEC provides counselling support to the students and has also introduced DRUMBEAT, a program that allows expression of emotions through the beat of the drum.
Recently the CIEC held a reunion, inviting students who had gone through the centre over the past 30 years.
Antonina says it was wonderful to catch up with so many former students and the richness of what they have gone on to do was heart-warming.
For the current group of students Antonina has similar hopes.
“I have learnt a lot from the students I have taught over the years and in many ways, I have travelled the world hearing about their countries. I am always in awe of how well they adapt and move forward and embrace their new situation.”