Introducing Michelle Sutherland, EAL/D and Visual Arts Teacher

As the population of Sydney becomes more diverse and multicultural so do we at Santa. Santa Sabina College has numerous students (and staff) whose first language is not English. This extraordinary and diverse staff and student body are helping us achieve our mission to embrace the future with an optimistic global vision.

But what happens when newly arrived families to Australia enrol small children at Santa, who can’t speak a word of English? How do they assimilate? How do they learn and make friends?

On day one, or even before that day when visiting the school for an introductory tour, these “new arrivals” get to meet the wonderful Mrs Michelle Sutherland.

Mrs Sutherland is Del Monte’s EAL/D (English is an Additional Language or Dialect) teacher and Visual Arts teacher in Prep and Kindergarten. For 16 years she has worked at Santa, building her network within our multicultural family and helping hundreds of students learn English.

The parents are benefitting from the networks too – Mrs Sutherland recently hosted morning coffee for our Korean families with a translator present.

Mrs Sutherland visits the classrooms of our non-English speaking students at least daily, working with them on learning English as a second language, setting them up with older buddies who also speak their first language and networking with staff. In Del Monte alone we have teachers who are native speakers of Arabic, Italian, Korean and Mandarin.

“I love seeing the children who arrive without a word of English then develop to being able to have a conversation”, she says.

This year in our very youngest years there are two South Koreans and one Chinese student who all arrived at Del Monte with no English. In other years there is a smattering of students who speak no English at home, so the pressure is on here at Santa!

Mrs Sutherland gets them all up to speed with visual and interactive games. She uses interactive computer apps, concentration games, repetition of sentence structure and allows each student to move at their own pace. She also taps into the older students with her buddy system – there is no student here alone in his or her mother tongue.

“If I can’t answer the question I’ll go to someone who can”, Mrs Sutherland says.

“By Week 6 our 2019 new arrivals were all speaking English although they still had trouble understanding everything.”

Emotional stability is looked after by Mrs Sutherland as well – thanks to her our students from overseas can rely on the stabilising influence of their daily interaction with her. She is often their go-to person, no matter what the issue.

Although her work is her undeniable passion, Mrs Sutherland spends her downtime with her family, outdoors with her dog and often at the cinema.

But being the first port of call for our students from overseas is her strong priority. And her love of the Santa Sabina community is clear when she says “it’s a privilege and great honour to work here because I have so many gifted colleagues and it’s a beautiful multicultural community.

“I learn as much from the children as they learn from me.”