For refugee families in Canada, preparing for school in a new country is just one of the tasks they have to learn as they settle into the community.
Many local refugees new to Prince Albert spend the summer learning English, and many get help preparing for school in Canada from the local YWCA Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) program. The program helps families navigate the school system, assisting with school supplies, parent/teacher interviews, transportation, and even what to pack for lunch each day.
Carlos Correa, with the SWIS program, said statistics show children adapt faster to new environments than adults, and feel a strong sense of belonging in their new schools. He said refugee children in local schools feel safe, have friends, and are able to take part in many extra-curricular activities.
The SWIS program is active in schools across Prince Albert, and has become a model for similar programs setting up in other provinces. Correa said it can be tough to know the background or extent of trauma affecting families new to Canada, so program staff also provide information about counselling and support programs if needed.
“We have students that might never have been in a classroom before,” Correa told paNOW. “Every immigrant has a different background; we try to ensure that we can be the guidance for those children and their families.”
The Tari family came to Prince Albert a year and a half ago. Originally from Syria, Frdous Alnuhili and her husband Amer Tari spent five years in Jordan before coming to Canada with their children. Last month, their son Alaa graduated from Carlton Comprehensive with his Grade 12 diploma and has plans to go on to university to study pharmacy. While the first few days at school were daunting and scary, all three of the Tari children said they enjoy school and have made new friends.
For Husseinu Hamed and Aida Chiekh Hassan and their six children, the move to Prince Albert was delayed after their daughter suffered a fall from five floors up that caused paralysis to her left side. Just a toddler at the time, young Essra underwent surgery in Lebanon and spent 45 days in a hospital.
The family has been in Prince Albert only since February and Essra, now six, is excited to be starting school in a specialized program in September. Her mom Aida teared up as her husband showed pictures of the little girl in hospital and then standing on a street in downtown Prince Albert this summer. For their family, the language barrier remains one of the hardest parts of being newcomers to Canada, and they are working hard to learn English as they get to know the community.
“English is the key for everything,” Hamed said through Mouez Hnid, who works with the SWIS program as an interpreter.
Correa said the local school system and the wider community are both very supportive of new families in Prince Albert. He said the program collects donations of backpacks and school supplies to help refugee families in need, as it can be expensive for larger families.
On Twitter: @CharleneTebbutt
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