How Schools Can Help Refugee Families

With the imminent arrival of Syrian refugee families our elementary and secondary schools will have a key role to play. Government and other local agencies will immediately provide shelter, food and clothing. However, the long-term success of these future citizens will be dependent on them eventually finding employment and becoming part of the community fabric. Learning one of Canada’s official languages will be critical to this success – and this is where our school system can excel.

Of course, all school-aged children from refugee families will be enrolled in local schools and will receive the excellent ESL support our schools are known for. There will also, however, be an urgent need to help their parents quickly learn sufficient language skills to feel comfortable in their new country and find employment. Most jobs usually require enough language to communicate with co-workers and customers, and to pass any required certification such as Foodsafe, WHMIS or driving licencing.

In addition to other community provided language programs for adults, our schools can provide creative and valuable support through ideas such as:

• Extending the Strong Start program concept to include these new families

• Inviting parents into schools to help out and listen in, particularly if their own children are in primary classes.

• Consider hosting after school drop-in sessions where parents and students can interact with staff and perhaps senior students.

• Gather up and donate unused readers and language teaching tools such as flash cards software and games.

• As new students start to gain language proficiency encourage them to read to and with parents at home.

There are probably many other creative ideas that have been successful with previous immigrant families.

In addition to helping refugee parents jumpstart their language acquisition we will be initiating strong connections between home and school – a connection we know is vital for building student and community success.

Stephen Hansen

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