While they may come from opposite sides of the world, a wonderful connection has developed between a group of Lutheran ladies from the Adelaide Hills and 25 refugee children from Blair Athol North Primary School, thanks to a remote-teaching project that has blossomed into meaningful friendships.
Darren Stevenson, Principal of Blair Athol North Birth to Year 7 Primary School (also known as BANB7), was inspired by a successful UK initiative known as ‘The Granny Project’, where children in India were virtually linked online with ‘grannies’ in England, to help boost their English language development.
With a large number of children in the Intensive English Centre at BANB7 – many being refugees from Afghanistan – Darren, a former Lutheran schools principal, sounded out the idea with his mother, Gill Stevenson, a retired primary school teacher. Gill immediately saw potential and had soon recruited four friends from Grace Lutheran Church in Bridgewater to form the volunteer group, affectionately coined ‘the BANB7 grannies’. The grannies – who, along with Gill, are Betty Lores, Sheri Paschke, Julie Clark and Judi Bell – have a wealth of experience to share, with all members having a background in education and four of the five being retired primary school teachers.
Teaching began with 45-minute intensive language coaching sessions via Zoom, with each granny teaching one or two children at a time. As the children’s English language skills began to increase, so too did their sharing with the grannies, opening up their worlds to one another through talking about their lives – their families, culture, friends, pets and more. Unexpected bonds began to form between the generations, made all the more meaningful given many of the children had experienced trauma and tragedy in their families before fleeing war-torn Afghanistan, or had left extended family members behind.
“The granny sessions have meant the world to some of these children,” Darren said. “They’ve been given a second chance here in Australia – they don’t take anything for granted.”
After some seven months of communicating solely online throughout the COVID pandemic, the grannies and children jumped at the opportunity to finally meet face-to-face as restrictions were eased, and a school visit was excitedly arranged.
Gill said the visit cemented the relationships that had already been formed in the virtual world.
“It was a delightful, heart-warming experience for us, as the children discovered we were not just talking heads!” she said. “It has been such a privilege to work with and share the love of God with these dear children.”
Darren said that seeing the children and grannies together was a joyful and emotional experience.
“I’ve been in education for 23 years and it was up there as one of the highlights of my career,” he said. “It was just a beautiful moment – the children treated the grannies like royalty!”
Darren thanked Grace Lutheran Church for their support in the way of prayers and donations to the children and their families in need, and acknowledged how much the grannies had given to the community.
“There have been a couple of relationships that have become really special, life-changing ones for these children,” he said. “The intergenerational learning and the mutual benefit to the children and the grannies has made a powerful difference to both.”
BANB7 plans to expand the project throughout the school, with hopes for a one-on-one granny for every child.
“We see unlimited potential for intergenerational connection via technology,” said Darren. “What was initially just a concept has been turned into a wonderful reality by this incredibly gifted and generous group of ladies.”
Image: The ‘grannies’ meet the BANB7 students & principal. Back row, from L-R: Principal Darren Stevenson, Julie Clark, Betty Lores, Judi Bell, Gill Stevenson, Sheri Paschke. Photo Darren Stevenson.