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The study 12 August 2014

A foggy smoky morning in late winter, from burning off against summer fires, fog, or just pollution. Low sun strikes windscreen through hazy light poor visibility other worldly feel. Google maps white print out sheet on passenger seat try to visualise directions, memorise kilometre measure from one turn to another. Wrong turn into backblocks of new old suburbia. Round and round through haze of semi industrial wastelands. Streets with rows and rows of same by same fibro houses through smoke haze disorientation. Just keep going. Find school, park car, sign in at school office, find classroom where children begin music therapy and drama. Two black skinned girls with patterns of fine plaits, many brown skinned children with dark curly hair, a few white faces, a small Aboriginal boy cruises endlessly around. Twenty children playing symbols xylophone drums shakers whistle guitar flute keyboard gongs bells clapsticks marimba exploring emotions. What emotion are you feeling? 'Hunger' cruising boy says. 'And what emotion does hunger make you feel?' music teacher asks. 'Angry'. On leaving two boys at school door ask 'are you betectives?' 'No we are teachers from the university.' 'What is that dollar you are wearing? Can I have it?' the other asks.

My first several visits to the school feel like this. When I return to work it is as if I have been on another planet. One time I listened to the Deputy Principal being interviewed about their Aboriginal English programme and he talked about 'getting lost in language'. Getting lost feels like the metaphor for my engagement here. Erehwon Public School is located in the Mt Druitt area, renowned for high levels of disadvantage and high Indigenous populations. What is lesser known is the new multicultural dimension with nearly half of the school's population classified as coming from families where English is a second language. The school has a disproportionately high number of students presenting with complex support needs including autism, mild to moderate intellectual disabilities and a range of challenging emotions and behaviours, often trauma related. In 2013 the school implemented a music therapy and drama programme as an intervention strategy for students with complex emotional/behavioural needs. The programme aims to establish a whole-school sustainable model that builds the capacity of students and staff to identify, understand and better manage complex and challenging emotions and behaviours. It draws upon the unique qualities of music and drama as methods of expression and engagement to strengthen the opportunities for all students.

The language mapping project was initiated by the school as an addition to this overall initiative and the plan was to include emotional and social language as well as the different ethnic languages and dialects spoken by children in this school. Based on an earlier project in schools with high migrant populations, this study sought to explore methods linking children's everyday language practices to their in-school learning (D'warte, 2014).

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