My view from the paddock is hundreds of children singing, playing and laughing at a school assembly. The paddock is surrounded not by trees but flags from dozens of countries. Finally, a teacher calls for silence, and it is time to sing the school song Together From Around the World.
Over 50 per cent of students at Darling Heights School in Toowoomba come from non-English speaking backgrounds, and some are refugees. In addition, 40 languages are spoken at the school representing 40 cultures. Each culture has its values, religion and cuisine.
Parent-teacher liaison officer Ricky Adams says the focus of Darling Heights is to welcome all students, support families, and provide a safe environment where children can learn, study and play together in harmony. Ricky works to bring the community into the school and support families in need. Staff, volunteers and government services run intensive English programs for parents, a food bank, sewing, and gardening groups. The aim is to help families navigate their new world.
Darling Heights invited literacy champion and Child Writes Fund founder Emma Mactaggart to work with students on a book project focused on harmony. Emma believes in empowering children to navigate their future through story. So over the past 12 months, she worked with Year 4s to produce a children's picture book, Akilah's Necklace, with safety, family and friendship as the themes.
It was a simple story of how Akilah and three friends from different cultures search to find a safe place to store a precious locket sent from Akilah's grandmother, who lives in a distant land. Finally, after many adventures, they find that home is the safest place.
Emma said the children were engaged and owned every stage of writing, illustrating and editing the book. They explored colour and cultural differences, bullying and teamwork. It was hard work, but the children responded well because they were being listened to, and their views were important.
Ricky Adams said the project built on the school's culture of acceptance. It was a long process interrupted by COVID-19, but now in year 5, the students were proud to launch the book at the school assembly.
The Foundation for Rural and regional renewal support The Child Writes Fund and Zonta Garden City funded the publication of 1000 copies of Akilah's Necklace.