As the new school year starts, each parent or caregiver that walks onto the school grounds or waits for children at the gate has an opportunity to be part of something very special that requires just a little effort.
For many, the start of school will bring the reunion of friends with stories to tell of summer holidays and the invitations for coffee and a catch-up will fly all around the school perimeter like seagulls at the beach.
Except for some – some will not receive those call outs and greetings, and this is our call to action.
This is where we need to be on alert for the new Prep parents, the new families to the school and the new arrivals to our country.
I was disturbed last year when, after many years of not being in the school yard environment how very quickly I saw the groups form.
My youngest was starting Prep and I was back into the thick of things, still a little stunned as I saw the next 13 years and about 2500 school lunches ahead of me.
Many parents knew each other from kinder or other year levels at school, and I could hear the ease in their greetings.
I too knew a handful of the mums around me. But I noticed that a few stood a little way off, closer to the gate.
The space between each of them was a little wider than it was in the fast growing inner circle.
I saw the same pattern every day and it weighed heavily on my heart that the picture of our prep playground parents was a segmented picture.
Each one of the parents outside the inner circle were new arrivals from other countries.
I introduced myself to each one of them including the father of a boy in my son’s class, Youssef.
New arrivals from Egypt. It was a short conversation due to language but we had connected and it was the start.
Over time language and understanding grew.
I checked in regularly with Youssef, as he found the school weekly newsletter quite difficult to understand and the important dates and reminders were slipping by unnoticed.
Then I got busy with my own friends and tasks.
It was the last week of school, a free dress day, and his son turned up in uniform and saw a school yard filled with kids in coloured t-shirts.
I happened to be near the gate and saw his little face as he registered what was happening and what he had missed.
As his heart broke so did mine.
Of course we had all reminded one another in everyday conversations because that’s how it works – we all need reminding, but in my busyness I had forgotten to step outside my own circle and check in with someone on the edge.
That afternoon I asked Youssef what he missed most about Egypt. His reply stopped me dead in my tracks.
He looked me in the eye and said quite sadly, “I miss when one person sits over there with a beer and someone else sits over here and tells a joke and everybody laughs.”
They missed community, they missed friendships, parties and social gatherings – something most of us take for granted.
I will never forget that moment – the raw honesty of it.
We invited his family to our home for Christmas and they accepted.
Food was plenty and the drinks were cold, there were gifts and stories and jokes – we laughed, we ate and I quietly gave thanks to the little voice that had prompted me to make this happen.
Later that evening we received a text message that read, ‘This is the best day spending since we arrived in Australia. God bless you and your family.’
The school may be our common place, where we easily take for granted the surety it brings to our routines, but each one of us can be part of turning it into an inclusive community.
For many families it is the only place they have to form friendships.
I encourage you to tune in, step outside your comfort zone, to offer friendship and see worlds change.
You just may find your Christmas table is a little different this year.