Bine ati venit. Vítejte. Barka da zuwa. Bi xêr hatî.
Whatever language you speak, when you walk into Newport Primary School it’s the one word that most quickly springs to mind.
Like at many other schools, photos of children and examples of their work adorn the brightly coloured walls.
But there’s something different here – a liveliness, an energy, as parents come and go at reception and pupils buzz around.
It’s a feeling that Newport is more than just a school building, but an integral, beating heart of a community that undoubtedly faces challenges.
Yet arriving at St Pauls Road on a grey and chilly winter morning, the school feels like a permanent monument to hope and optimism – an active and integral part of its unique community.
“Newport is a diverse community, and that can come with challenges. But it’s a positive for our school,” says headteacher Tricia Maxwell, sitting alongside deputy head Stacey Carlisle and the school’s dogs Elsie, a golden retriever and Annie, a Lhasa Poo.
Tricia Maxwell with children and school dog Elsie from Newport School
“We’ve worked at the school for a long time, as have many of our staff. We all love working at this school.
“We do our upmost to welcome our children, and our parents.
“It is important to us that families feel at home at Newport.”
There’s that word again, welcome.
Sometimes, it isn’t straightforward – often, the warmth and acceptance from the Newport School family is offered to those who’ve had a very difficult start in life.
The area is a melting pot of cultures, languages and stories.
But it can be hard to find work and access benefits, and sometimes families may have to move on quite quickly, often through no fault of their own.
“We’ve learned a lot about people in this community, some quite harrowing things,” continued Tricia.
“Which is why our open door policy is so important. I’m continually astounded by how quickly everyone settles in.”
Tricia Maxwell (left) and Stacey Carlisle with children from Newport School
A living, breathing place
Many pupils become language ambassadors to support children who are new to school whose first language is not English, and new arrivals are teamed up with a ‘buddy’.
Staff are especially adaptable, and constantly adapt to ensure that we can meet the needs of all of our learners.
“Newport is a living, breathing place. Our demographic is regularly changing,” continued Tricia.
“One thing that remains constant is that the children pride themselves on their culture. We have some children with four or five languages. That astounds me.”
The diversity in the school becomes a point of celebration – children are encouraged to share their story, their food and traditions.
But Stacey continued: “We try ensure that we are not tokenistic, when we celebrate cultures it has to be based on genuine interest and acquiring of knowledge. We recognise that we need to show our families integrity and respect.”
Diversity could be the source of disagreements and misunderstandings – however Newport use a unique method of restorative practice to support empathy and understanding.
Stacey continued: “It allows the children to understand the impact that their behaviour might have on other people.
“There’s no point in just getting children to learn to say sorry. They need to acknowledge what harm has been caused. When relationships go wrong, how to fix them.”
Tricia said it is teaching children important life skills: “It’s about how to talk to someone to get the right response. It’s very powerful.
“If you shout at someone, you don’t have much chance of being listened to.
“But it is a very different way of dealing with behaviour – and to be honest, historically it’s probably not something many of us have grown up with at school or at home.”
Stacey Carlisle with school dog Annie
Alongside the extensive pastoral care, there are very real and immediate issues the school deals with on a daily basis.
“We began a breakfast provision around four years ago and it quickly became something that every child receives. We have even been able to arrange deliveries for parents who needed that food during school holidays.
“We don’t believe we’re a ‘do to’ school, but a ‘do with’ and try to support our parents where ever possible.”
Stacey speaks with pride when she says she’s sure families would ask for support from the school, if they needed it – a sign of the strength of the relationships they’ve fostered.
Uniform is available for any family who’s in need, while school jumpers do not feature a logo to ease financial pressure on parents.
“However, if children come into school without uniform, we’re not a school that’s going to send children home,” continued Stacey. “They’re here, they’re in school. That’s the most important thing.”
A huge two years
On top of everything, the pandemic has made things more complicated for a school where needs were already significant.
“We went into full organisation mode. I was worried about the impact on all of our families and staff, to be honest,” Tricia remembers, as she looks back on the announcement of a full national lockdown in March 2020.
“A priority at that stage was making sure children were safe and the staff felt supported. We had a skeleton staff in school, on a three week rotation.
“We were expecting the worst. But our children were extremely resilient.
“Some of it was surreal. I remember us running around Sainsbury’s, buying up all of their gift cards to make sure that we got food to families of our children who were isolating.
“We had no laptops for children at first, no Teams or Zoom set up, and little to support home learning.”
Stacey continued: “People were finding it really hard, and they wanted their children to come into school, especially over the first two weeks.
“Our staff spent hours every day phoning or making visits to make sure children and their families were ok.
“By the second lockdown, we thankfully had the technology infrastructure set up for online learning.”
Yet alongside the stress, Tricia and Stacey remember funny times – laughs they’ve had, bonds that have grown stronger as staff and children showed their resilience and mettle.
Tricia Maxwell (left) and Stacey Carlisle with children and school dog Elsie from Newport School
Those are important traits when it comes to dealing with the very high turnover of pupils.
“It is hard when families move on” said Tricia.
“I went through a period of wanting to hold onto everyone! But we have to accept that some of the families in our school are going leave.”
For the children’s sake, we have to concentrate on the positive aspects.”
Stacey agreed: “In life, people come and go. It is about developing the emotional resilience of the children too. But it’s hard to say goodbye.”
Drop-in therapy sessions are available for any staff members who need it, with counselling also available for pupils who will benefit. Mental health has no stigma at Newport.
The leaders – and the staff – wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else.
Tricia continued: “I really love this school. I love the community and what we can work together to achieve.
“Of course, the academic work is most important – but it’s about our community.”
We are words and pictures – Mike Brown
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