Launch an art attack on trauma

23rd May 2008 at 01:00
It is not unusual for pupils at Villiers High to have seen people die
It is not unusual for pupils at Villiers High to have seen people die.

Fifteen per cent of pupils at the west London school are refugees from countries such as Somalia and Sri Lanka. Many have witnessed the deaths of relatives or friends, often in horrific circumstances. Others have lost contact with their parents, and do not know when, or if, this contact will be renewed.

Dai Jones, assistant head, says: "We have the whole spectrum of trauma. Many want recognition that they come from certain places and have had certain experiences."

So Villiers set up a programme that enables refugee pupils to express themselves through creative activities. Teachers at Villiers are attuned to spotting signs of trauma: some children use only dark colours in their paintings; others include incongruous military elements.

"Sometimes these things are there because children want to talk about them," says Mr Jones. "That leads to referrals that can be useful to them."

There is an on-site counsellor, and the school employs teachers and support staff who share the pupils' ethnic origins and can speak in their mother tongue.

Staff are also trained never to accept bad behaviour at face value. "If a child starts to manifest behaviour that's cause for concern.

"At the top of the check list will be: where have they come from? What have they experienced?" says Mr Jones.

The school also works closely with families and community support groups. Some parents who have lost relations struggle to let their children out of their sight, so the school provides support and helps them address difficult experiences with their children.

"Parents might think, 'Why bring up something ugly and painful?'" says Mr Jones. "But they learn that it should not be a taboo topic. It's part of the family experience."

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