On first glance, Sunshine Beach State School looks just like a typical state primary school. Kids playing in the playground in broad-brimmed hats, handball and cartwheels aplenty, and bags on hooks. But look a little closer and you’ll find that the school is one of the most diverse on the Coast.
Because, as the only accredited primary Education Queensland International School in the area, Sunshine Beach State School is a unique blend of state school and global learning.
With stunning beaches, incredible year-round weather and attractions such as Noosa National Park, Noosa has always been a highly-regarded tourist destination. However, rather than head to the capital cities, international families are now choosing Noosa as a cultural immersion destination and a place to learn English. Every year, Sunshine Beach State School welcomes students from many countries including Brazil, France, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, China and Korea.
Jenny Easey, Principal at Sunshine Beach State School explained that there is a growing number of international families looking to truly experience the Noosa lifestyle. “Most families come for complete cultural immersion and to learn English. They might be here on holiday, or taking a sabbatical from work. Some families come for just three to six weeks; others come for up to 12 months. We have a lot of families that have returned several times now!”
But it’s not just visiting students that come to the school. With no catchment area, families can enroll in Sunshine Beach State School from across the Sunshine Coast and Hinterland. “We also have permanent international students, where families have relocated from India, Japan, South Africa and many other countries. Families moving to the Sunshine Coast now seek out our school, as we have the diversity and programs in place to wholly accommodate international students and their families.”
With international students coming to the school from Prep through to Year 6, visiting students are completely integrated into the mainstream classes, immersed in a rich daily learning program and taking part in all school events. Classrooms have additional teacher aides to support those students with language differences. Because of this complete immersion, even when they arrive with minimal English skills they leave almost fluent.
As well as the language skills, visiting students get to experience Australian culture – they play Oztag, go to the beach, learn to surf, and join in everyday sports activities.
International students are instantly part of the class and friendships are formed quickly. So much so that, within a day of arriving, children from all cultures and backgrounds are happily finding ways to play together, breaking down any language differences. “It’s amazing how many friendships can be quickly formed over a game of handball!” exclaimed Maree Thomson, International Coordinator at Sunshine Beach State School.
Jenny added, “They just join in, they learn to be resilient and creative, whilst local students experience a bigger wider world. It’s a very enriching experience for everyone.”
And with the program growing in recognition, students now travel with a purpose to join the school. “We’ve had a couple of musical students travelling here with their instruments to join in our musical program," Jenny said.
With constant exposure to other languages, cultures and friendships, the benefits of the International Program for existing students at Sunshine Beach State School are numerous. Students have the opportunity to truly experience different cultures, providing them with a different way of seeing the world and getting to know families on a day-to-day level.
Students also learn to make friends and get creative with communication, understanding that difference is not a barrier. Friendships are formed and remain long after the visitors return to their home country, with emails keeping friends in touch across the globe.
Visiting students also change the dynamic in the classroom. Always eager to learn, this motivation rubs off on the local students creating a more engaged and diverse learning experience.
With extensive exposure to different languages, senior students have acquired adequate language skills to become interpreters at assembly for younger visiting students, something that is a rare mentoring experience.
After 15 years of bringing cultural diversity to the classroom, the International Program at Sunshine Beach State School is now an integral part of the school community.
Principal Jenny Easey said, “The international program has been a great success – it’s wonderful for our students and the greater school community. Existing students learn as much from our guests as they learn from the Australians.”
And it’s not just the students that benefit. With visiting parents also looking for a complete cultural experience, they are eager to get involved at the school and the local activities. “We usually try to connect families with other families in the area when they arrive to give them the community support.” Jenny explained. “Very quickly, parents get involved in the school, volunteering to introduce new foods and flavours to the students – Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Czechoslovakian – or speaking about their culture in the classroom.”
Jenny concluded, “It is a privilege for students at Sunshine Beach State School to learn alongside international students in mainstream classes. They have the opportunity to make new friends, learn about other countries and cultures, and experience a different view on the world.”
Promoting diversity, incorporating multicultural perspectives across everyday learning, introducing human rights, tolerance and cross-cultural communication skills, the program has now become a valued part in the education landscape of the Sunshine Coast.