08 SES 11, School Climate and Collaboration for Youth Health Promotion
Across the globe, a crisis has occurred in the management of refugee arrivals, with the registration of more than four million Syrian refugees being just one manifestation of this crisis (UNHCR, 2015). Responding to this situation, a considerable amount of attentio has focused on meeting the immediate needs of trefugees, including through the provision of resettlement options. However, once settlement has occurred, transition challenges must be addressed, including ensuring that new arrivals are supported to develop a renewed sense of identity, purpose and meaning (Balfour et. al., 2015). This is especially necessary for young people who may have “depleted their emotional coping resources” during periods in camps (Peisker & Tilbury, 2003, p.82).
Sonderegger & Barrett, (2004), considering the well-being of newly arrived secondary students, suggest that over time, young people, especially girls, can experience an increasing sense of hopelessness, with patterns of adjustment varying along cultural lines. In response to this situation, Murray et al (2010) argue that newcomers must be provided with quality experiences post arrival, while Correa-Velez et al (2010, p. 1406) argue for the importance of “structures that include”.
This paper reports on a project, funded by the Queensland government that was aimed at supporting the resettlement processes of young people attending one Australian secondary school. With almost 70% of the 739 students coming from refugee backgrounds, and with almost 50 nationalities represented, the school team was keen to explore the value of alternate pedagogical approaches, which in this case were focused on the application of arts based pedagogies and partnerships with artists and arts organisations. They hoped that these approaches might achieve outcomes similar to those summarised by Fiske (1999) whose landmark Champions of Change report identified that quality engagement with the arts can connect young people to themselves, to each other, to the community and to the curriculum.
Funding provided opportunities for engagement with a range of arts learning experiences, including through partnerships with artists and arts-based organisations across multiple arts disciplines including both visual and performing arts. Six case studies were designed to determine the impact of this initiative on a range of key transition factors including: sense of connection/connectedness, attendance, self-efficacy, literacy, oral language, engagement, motivation, and pathway perceptions.
Here we focus on one of the outcomes identified as a result of this project - the development of alternate possible selves. The notion of possible selves was first offered by Markus and Nurius (1986, p.954) who defined them as “conceptions of ourselves as we want to be or fear to be”. Further, they suggested that possible selves “derive from representations of the self in the past and they include representations of the self in the future”. More recently, Erikson (2007, p.356) extended upon this definition to suggest that possible selves are “conceptions of our selves in the future, including at least to some degree, an experience of being an agent in a future situation”. Erikson also highlights the fact that possible selves are constructed through the interplay with self-concept and the social and cultural context.
This concept has not been widely used within arts-based approaches to refugee resettlement where other notions such as the nurturing of hope are more prevalent. For example Yohani and Larsen (2009) draw on several research studies to argue that hope is essential for coping with diversity, and have employed arts based methodologies to capture refugee children’s perceptions of the future. However, central to our study was a desire to identify ways of supporting the development of hope by providing horizon-breaking experiences that might enable the young people involved to identify alternative possible selves through engagement in the arts.
Y-Connect is a 3-year government-funded school-university research partnership. The study is situated in one inner-city, government high school with a high proportion of new arrival students. Many of the 739 students have migrated (or sought asylum) from 52 countries, with 75% of the population having an ESAL background. As such, the school is a fruitful site for research that seeks to "uncover the manifest interaction of significant factors" (Berg, 2009, p. 318) in context. The questions guiding Y-Connect are: How has participation in Y-Connect impacted on the young people involved? What factors have enabled and constrained the success of the project? And, what further impacts are evident within and beyond the school community? The overall study comprises six collective (Stake, 1995), explanatory (Yin 2003, Merriam 1988, Freebody 2003) case studies. Informing data is drawn from interviews (students, teachers, artists, administrators), school records (participation, attendance, behavior), school and national test results, artefacts (photos, videos, samples of student work) and annotated plans. Case 1 considers the overarching impact of Y-Connect within the school community; Case 2 investigates the impact of artists working in arts classrooms, Case 3 investigates the impact of drama teaching-artist in English classes, Case 4 uses drama-based approaches in the teaching of English to new arrivals; Case 5 investigates the contributions to learning made when dancers and choreographers work alongside mathematics teachers; and Case 6 involves a group of senior student working regularly with teaching-artists as part of co-curricular activities. Data collection concludes in mid-2018, though analysis has been ongoing throughout the project. We do not seek to make generalizations from this study but rather draw on Stake's (1995, 2005) naturalistic generalization to impose a "structure, a pattern on meaning" (Ruddin, 2006, p. 800). We consider that each of these cases may be considered as "critical" (Ruddin, 2006, p. 805); cases where we hope the uniqueness and specificity will allow us to identify individual (or combinations of) significant and/or critical factors that contribute to understanding the personal experiences of students, artists, and teachers involved in the project. As Flyvbjerg suggests, we aim for "a nuanced view", considering the "interaction between the case and its context" (Yin, 2014, p, 321) rather than suggesting that behavior can be meaningfully understood as "rule-governed acts" (Flyvbjerg, 2006, p. 223), and propose that readers will be able to identify, within the particularity, resonances and connections for themselves.
Analysis of the qualitative data collected across the three-year duration of this study reveals that the work has had a considerable impact on the creation of alternate possible selves. This has been shown to be particularly the case for a group of particularly vulnerable individuals. These young people have reported that the opportunities afforded by this project have shifted their self concept, particularly as it related to how they saw themselves as learners and language users. This shift in self-concept, coupled with horizon-breaking opportunities including participation in public performances and gallery exhibitions, have served to open up new possibilities for imagining possible selves. Many of these young people had previously had limited experience in artistic domains or had viewed them as being "only for rich people". Without the exposure and experience provided by this project, they would have had limited capacity to imagine alternative selves or the role models to move these forward. However, through meaningful and ongoing relationships with artists, workshops at cultural venues, participation in performances at external venues or simply the opportunity to create collaborative outcomes with the support of artists, these young people appear to have developed an expanded range of possible selves.
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