'Saphara Be the Change' Project

11 April 2022

Stranmillis & St Mary’s College lecturers and students with the P5 Primary school children of St Paul’s and Fane Street, Belfast.

Last week saw the launch of the Saphara Be the Change project with a combined team of twenty student teachers from Stranmillis and St Mary’s University Colleges. The team came together on the Stranmillis campus with Saphara founder and CEO, Dr Christine Burnett, Saphara Education Lead, Ms Paula Stronge, and academic faculty from both St Mary’s and Stranmillis University Colleges, Ms Maria Stewart and Dr Sharon Jones.

The team are leading a creative project working with fifty pupils from a wide range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds (twenty-three different languages) who attend St Paul’s and Fane Street Primary Schools in Belfast.

The theme for this innovative week was ‘My Story, Our Town.’ As well as facilitating the inclusive educational activities on campus to develop pupil confidence and interpersonal communication skills, the student team have been busy fundraising to support the education of marginalised children in the Saphara schools in India.

Speaking at the end of the week, Stranmillis partner, Dr Sharon Jones, said: “Working with student teachers and such a multilingual group of children on campus this week, in collaboration with colleagues from Saphara, St Mary’s University College, and local schools who welcome migration-experienced, refugee and asylum-seeking families, was a real personal and professional highlight. The project brought together my research and educational practice in linguistic diversity and language education in a very powerful way. It also underlined the vital role Initial Teacher Education must play in developing high-quality provision in language education in all its dimensions.”

Ms Maria Stewart of St Mary’s added: “Through working in partnership with colleagues from Stranmillis University College and two local, culturally diverse primary schools, students have experienced a unique opportunity to develop team-teaching skills and their intercultural awareness. The school pupils too, enjoyed two days of fun hands-on activities and reignited links with their Shared Education partner school who they haven't met with since pre-pandemic. As a teacher educator and English as an additional language researcher, I have found Be the Change week an authentic opportunity for pre-service teachers to build relationships with linguistically and culturally diverse pupils in a non-formal setting, shifting their perception from a deficit view towards an appreciation of the knowledge, skills and resources these learners possess."

Professor Jonathan Heggarty MBE, Principal and CEO of Stranmillis University College, said: "We in Stranmillis are delighted to partner with St Mary’s and, of course Saphara, in this fantastic initiative which will not only benefit a diverse range of learners in Northern Ireland but also children in India."

Professor Peter Finn KSG, Principal of St Mary’s University College added: “This educational project is particularly relevant for the times we are living in and welcoming more pupils to our schools from ever diverse backgrounds. In addition, the outreach to marginalised children in India is social justice in action.”

 P5 pupils from St Paul’s and Fane Street Primary Schools in Belfast take part in inclusive workshops with the student teachers of Stanmillis and St Mary’s Colleges.

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