If you try getting through to book an appointment with ‘We Welcome the World’ centers in Peel, you may be in for a long wait. The phone lines are busy, staff are overworked and each call takes much longer than ever given the difficulty of getting through to parents and guardians who have difficulty speaking and understanding English. To help the thousands of new students joining school in Peel, the Peel District School Board’s We Welcome the World centers are processing 60 new students every single day.
At one of the three ‘We Welcome the World’ centres located on 100 Elm Drive, Mississauga, a line of elementary school-age immigrant children are seated quietly awaiting their turn to be assessed. They fidget nervously in their chairs and look around wide-eyed not knowing what to expect. A meeting with an assessment teacher and settlement counselor will hopefully reassure them.
The purpose of these centers is after all set-up with the expressed purpose of helping students and families transition into the school system.
There’s been a 10 per cent spike this month compared to last August, which has in part been attributed to the number of Syrian refugee families that have settled in the Peel Region.
In an interview with Can-India, acting coordinator Nala Moorthy said that Peel District School Board is well positioned to teach a diverse school population. “We have a very good ESL program and experienced teachers,” she said.
Roughly two-thirds of the students coming through the centres are at the elementary level. Students are given literacy and numeracy tests.
“Fitting into school is a lot easier for elementary children. Newcomer students going to middle and high school can find it more challenging. Teenagers who’ve had a gap in their education need to be engaged more, so we tell them about after school programs and the help they can access,” she said.
While academics is one of the issues that confound many newcomer parents and children other issues like what lunch would be alright to send.
Many parents want to know what kind of lunch they should pack for their children. Some parents don’t know what constitutes ‘Canadian cuisine’ and so end up packing up junk food or even cookies for lunch.
Anticipating these questions, the welcome information package includes a tip sheet with notes on “cultural lunch.”
Ms Moorthy says counselors often have to explain layering and the need to anticipate the cold weather, this is a challenge for newcomers who’ve grown up never owning or wearing jackets and thermal clothing.
The counselors stress the importance of ensuring that children dress for the weather and other issues that have little or nothing to do with academics. – CINEWS