Period and place in which the experience took place
The homework club “Assisa” started its activities in October 2013. It is located in an area with many immigrant and underprivileged families in Liège.
Main actors involved (special focus on the profile of the student)
• Young people of the area.
They are recent immigrants and all have problems in French.
In their family, they do not speak French and they do not receive help for their homework, since their parents have even more troubles in French. The parents generally only communicate in their mother tongue and most of them have not studied.
Many of those kids do not have a primary school certificate and are enrolled in “differentiated education”. We do not know how far they study and do their homework once they are home.
• Volunteer supervisors who support the project.
Description of the factual events
The homework centre “ASSISA” is located in a poor area:
• 40 different nationalities with their own norms and culture.
• In lower and middle secondary school, 70% of the families receive social benefits.
• In upper secondary school, the students receive social benefits.
• Their social integration is limited to their neighbourhood.
• Due to this marginality, the street law prevails.
A technical and vocational school, which already has an “internal reschooling unit” (described in a success story: http://schoolsafetynet.pixel-online.org/DB_sstory_scheda.php?art_id=50&ta=&cou=&aut=&tip=&q
=) wanted to go a step further in young immigrant integration, creating a homework club.
During the class council in June 2012, several teachers regretted the high number of failures, particularly in lower secondary school (students between 12 and 15).
Those failures are mainly due to family backgrounds in which school work conditions are not appropriate. The idea of afterschool support gains ground and leads in 2013 to the creation of the homework club “Assisa”. The neighbourhood had no such structure for secondary school students.
Actions carried out to identify the causes of the students difficulties
The homework club has a double objective: supporting education and social integration for the teenagers of the area; supporting the families who, for several reasons, cannot help their children, or with great difficulty.
It follows those working axes:
• Improving the teenagers’ school work, with priority for “command of the French language”.
• Making sure the teenagers develop their abilities. They should regain confidence in their own abilities.
• Making global development easier, increasing their creativity and opening them to others’. For this purpose, the homework club will develop project-based learning.
• Favouring meeting between cultures: that of the country of origin and that in which the teenagers will have to integrate.
• Developing sport activities and different cultural expression techniques to foster other forms of expressions, self-discovery, de self-confidence.
It works with the help of twenty volunteer supervisors. For school support, the people in charge preferred adults with pedagogical training: retired teachers, future teachers or educators, graduate students who search employment.
The team of supervisors also includes several students in the last year of secondary school who act as sponsors.
Training sessions (group dynamics, educational games...) are organised for the supervisors through the “Fédération des écoles de devoirs” (homework club federation).
For Wednesday activities, the homework club cooperates with local associations.
The homework club is mainly addressed to 12 to 15 year old students enrolled in differentiated education. It offers three types of activity:
• “School support” 3 days a week.
The supervisors help the students in daily work management; help them use the right tools (references, textbooks, …); remember; evolve towards autonomy in work helping them take initiatives, giving them responsibilities; encourage them to increase self-confidence; encourage mutual help and solidarity for certain types of homework (for instance: historical research, science research, establishing a geography map …); fill the gaps where necessary ... They also set up other forms of support (speech therapist, psychomotor therapist, psychologist …) related to the dysfunction observed and with the family’s agreement.
• “Cultural and sport activities” on Wednesday afternoon and trips during holidays.
• The “yearly feast”
• The “users’ council” (once a quarter) to review the activities.
Late December 2013, around thirty people were enrolled in the homework club (including 2/3 from the school that initiated the project) and around twenty frequent users.
Thanks to the small size of the institution, relations are personalised: one supervisor for no more than one to three people.
With the exception of one person, all the users come from foreign countries (including eastern Europe and Africa). Most of them discover French for the first time and have to get used to it because it is the only way to be understood and understand others.
At school, it is difficult for them to grasp the subjects due to their bad command of French. For instance, one student was so stressed out about his works in French that he had cramps and disturbed the group at the homework club. He was taken apart by a supervisor, he could express his problem and regain some serenity. Another example is Mohamed, who arrived from Morocco six months ago and does not know French beyond salutations. He speaks Spanish because he spent some time in Spain before coming to Belgium. When he cannot express himself in French and get understood, he writes in Spanish and translates it automatically.
The supervisors help those teenagers learn French and improve in a friendly environment, with an adapted rhythm that is different from school. For the people in charge of this multicultural homework club, “social link” is the most important.
When the students do not have homework to do, the supervisors offer them other activities related to school work (such as educational games) or revisions based on older exams.
Some teenagers only come to seek school support and do not take part in the Wednesday activities. Yet, these are rich and complements learning since they help students discover the pleasure to work together, test different artistic techniques, be aware of environment and citizen projects... Thanks to those free activities, they can discover other means of action, regain self-confidence, commit themselves and understand that together they can undertake great projects.
The users seem satisfied with the support they receive, such as this young girl who has already told the supervisors she would come back next year because the homework club “reassures her”, or this older boy who was able to reach another level of study and keeps coming because it “helps him a lot”. Others regularly comes to say they passed tests thanks to the homework club.
Support received by fellow students, colleagues, school management and parents
• Support from the school that initiated the project and welcome the homework club in its premises, provides material and cooperates with the supervisors. For instance, coordination with the French teacher to review a dictation given in class.
• Forum with around twenty associations of the neighbourhood (dedicated to young people, social integration and interculturality) to take roots in the homework club and establish a partnership to organise Wednesday activities.
• Lack of contacts with the families although they are kept informed about the activities and invited to come along their children (such as during the yearly feast).
Strengths and weaknesses of the experience
After six months, the people in charge say the experience will be continued and extended in years to come.
• Improvements are observed in frequent users’ results.
According the teachers of the school that initiated the project, those students are more motivated and rigorous in their work. They have gained self-confidence.
• The users show solidarity and collaboration.
It is observed during Wednesday afternoon activities, when they have to work in team.
• The project does not discriminate between boys and girls which provides citizenship education to the users.
• This project is felt as positive by the local associations and by the school that initiated the project, which considers it as a complement to regular education.
• The number of supervisors.
The homework club had to refuse more than twenty students because due to the lack of supervisors. Currently, it receives around ten users a day. With more supervisors, it could receive around fifteen per day and allow students to come three times a week (instead of twice).
• The lack of contacts with parents.
Parents only have to sign the enrolment form. The people in charge think it is not enough. Socialisation, which is one of the aims of the homework club, also needs contacts with the parents. Incidentally, the regular users are those whose parents have met the people in charge.
The homework club wishes parents were more involved in Wednesday activities in order to foster social cohesion. The people in charge plan to establish a “cooking workshop” to discover cultures through meals in which each community would present the food of its country.
They also consider “visual art workshops”, in which language would not be an obstacle.
• The available material.
The homework club depends too much on the material provided by the school that initiated the project and local associations (such as the educational games).
The people in charge would like to have their own material and purchase new computers so that the teenagers can carry out research on the Internet and access the platform with exam subjects for their revisions.
• Wednesday activities.
The homework club lacks fund for outside activities, which include bicycle ride to discover Belgium.
• The citizenship council
There is no regular core to make it active. (For a description of a citizenship council, see success story: http://schoolsafetynet.pixel-online.org/DB_sstory_scheda.php?art_id=33&ta=&cou=&aut=&tip=&q