by Helen Beringen

Bringing together the teaching skills of retired teachers with the learning needs of children, many of whom are refugees, has been a match made in heaven for one northern suburbs school in Adelaide.

All it took was a school principal with a big heart, an inspiring online English program helping disadvantaged children, and a team of grannies.

This band of friends from the Bridgewater Lutheran congregation in the Adelaide Hills were retired educators who still had lots of love and learning to share. And share it they have – with 25 refugee students from the Blair Athol North Birth to Year 7 School’s remedial English program.

Over the past year, 73-year-old Gillian (Gill) Stevenson and friends Sheri Paschke, Judi Bell, Betty Lores and Julie Grierson have run weekly intensive English coaching sessions via the internet meeting system Zoom for the students, which also continued through COVID-19 restrictions. ‘It was very much on the cards before COVID struck – what has been an amazing blessing has been the development of the Zoom platform’, Gill explains. This allowed the program to go ahead online!

Teaching is in her blood for Gill, and her husband of 53 years, retired Lutheran Pastor Alex Stevenson, whose first career was in teaching before he was called to the ministry. It is a gift shared by their son Darren who, as principal of the Blair Athol school, was inspired to trial the program, known as the Granny Cloud, in which UK grandmothers provide English language support to Indian disadvantaged children. (You can learn more here:

At Darren’s school, about 100 of the 500 students are part of the intensive English program, which focuses on acquiring conversational English and literacy.

That’s where Gill and her team of retirees come in. They help the students practise their conversational English, and share their stories and background with the children, through photos, words and books. Helping the children with other literacy skills, like reading, is also a focus.

As Gill adds, ‘God has just taken this and blessed our involvement’. The outcome has been beyond their expectations. ‘It’s a win-win’, she says. ‘The school is appreciative. While there is lots of coordination involved, they are also so passionate about this program.’

The program also has been greatly appreciated by the students, 80 per cent of whom are refugees.

The teaching team members were thrilled when they were finally able to meet the students late last year.

‘Meeting them for the first time in November after COVID restrictions were eased, we were just overwhelmed’, Gill says. “They gave us the most beautiful thank you cards and a morning tea from the school’s kitchen garden.’

Gill and her team have been amazed by the response and interest generated by the program.

‘Every disadvantaged school should have a team of grannies helping with their English conversation and much, much more’, she says.

And they give all the glory to God, summed up in a favourite Bible verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 3, verses 20 and 21: ‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.’

Would you like to explore how you can help the program? Contact Gill Stevenson at


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