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Yazidi refugee and teacher takes on new role at regional NSW primary school

Six Yazidi refugee students in classroom smiling with English language teacher
Yazidi refugee students after an English language class with teacher Rashid Shani Baqi (L).

ABC Riverina: Antigone Anagnostellis

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A newly-arrived refugee has taken on teaching responsibilities in intensive English classes and translation between parents and staff at a school hosting the youngest of Australia's largest Yazidi community, established in 2015.

Mount Austin Public School hired Yazidi refugee Rashid Baqi Shani at the start of November, who arrived as part of Australia's commitment to accept 12,000 asylum seekers fleeing from IS in Iraq.

Principal Anna Middleton said staff have a better understanding of the growing Yazidi community in Wagga Wagga thanks to a translator.

"Trying to find someone who speaks Kurdish Kurmaji isn't very easy," she said.

The school has seen a rise in students from non-English speaking backgrounds from 11 per cent to 21 per cent since September last year.

Ms Middleton said a language barrier meant staff struggled to clearly communicate school operations such as fire drills to the newly-arrived students.

"We did things unthinkingly that might have upset the kids. We rang bells and didn't have the words to tell the kids it was a practice, so I think we've adjusted what we do," she said.

Three teachers at Mt Austin Public School
Yazidi refugee teacher Shani Baqi, refugee coordinator Ali Reid and principal Anna Middleton outside Mount Austin Public School.

ABC Riverina: Antigone Anagnostellis

The school's refugee support leader Ali Reid said having Mr Shani Baqi on site also improves relations with parents.

The Yazidi families hope their relatives will be among the next arrivals.

Mr Shani Baqi has two sisters still living in Iraq who are in the process of applying to the Department of Immigration.

He has received a letter from the department, but is expecting delays.

Translating for one of the female students, he said she didn't want to talk about her life in Iraq.

Yazidi refugee primary school students in classroom smiling with teacher and refugee coordinator
Yazidi refugee primary school students in their Wagga classroom.

ABC Riverina: Antigone Anagnostellis

New start for Yazidi students

Nine-year-old Nozeen Ismael said she was happy at school in Wagga, and having started a new life in Australia couldn't think about Iraq.

She aspires to be a lawyer.

Basil Shani Baqi, 13, is in year 6 and competed for the school in its athletics championships, winning gold in the 100-metres and silver in the 200-metres.

He said he wants to be a professional soccer player.

Coloured pencil sculptures in school ground
Four pencil statues in school backyard with labels be respectful, be safe, be responsible and participate.

ABC Riverina: Antigone Anagnostellis

His 12-year-old brother Meethal said the language barrier went beyond not speaking English — including remembering what to do when a schoolmate offered him a high-five in the playground.

Ms Middleton said before hiring on-the-ground translators staff "were paddling up the creek without a canoe".

"Sure there's always more that we could do, but I think we've been in a situation where we had no idea how to manage. We seem to have been able to manage it."