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Blog: Wednesday, March 8th, 2017
Embracing our Diversity
This past week has been a poignant reminder of the amazing diversity we celebrate in our District and community. I had the pleasure of visiting Terry Fox Elementary school and toured their classrooms along with Principal Kathy Flagader. It has been about a year since my last visit, but I was particularly struck by how the classrooms and learning commons seemed more inviting. It was no doubt a commitment of the staff to student self-regulation. Beyond that, I was amazed by how well their 25 Syrian-Canadian students were doing in the school, just a year after they first arrived in Abbotsford.
You will recall the amazing efforts of our District staff and community members in settling the 25 families who had lived through some unimaginable circumstances prior to coming to Abbotsford. In total, there were 116 children (96 school-aged) who joined our community last February.
Under Kanta Naik’s leadership we designed a comprehensive plan for the successful integration of these students and families, so as to minimize their stress and anxiety. For instance, rather than make them come to school to register, we completed the registration process at the Sandman Hotel where they were staying. This was also where we held orientation sessions to help them understand the Canadian school system. Our team put the students through a 3-day orientation session which introduced them to basic routines through enjoyable arts and crafts activities.
Because many of these students came with traumatic experiences, we decided to gently ease their transition into our schools. As a result, five new sheltered immersion classes were created in schools at each level: one secondary class (Rick Hansen), one middle school class (Eugene Reimer) and two elementary classes (Dave Kandal and Roberta Bondar). Students received intensive language training from March to June in these schools. As the students became more comfortable, they began to join the regular students for recess and lunch, then school assemblies, events and even classes. Parent training was simultaneously provided about the school system and its expectations. Almost all of the Syrian students were enrolled in our Summer School Program, where our Transportation Department brought them school every day.
In the fall, they were enrolled in their catchment area schools and fully integrated into regular classes. Large groups of them enrolled at Ten-Broeck and Terry Fox elementary. It has not been without challenges, but for the most part these students are progressing well and this due in large part to an amazing team effort. Our teachers, administrators and support staff, Abbotsford Community Services, Settlement Workers and Arabic translators have pulled together to provide comprehensive wrap around services for these families. This is the Abbotsford “can-do” spirit for which we are so well known, and which I saw at Terry Fox Elementary last week. I will close with two quotes that speak to the power of embracing diversity:
“Our Syrian students have truly enriched our school community. They have definitely taught all of us valuable lessons about the resilience of children and their capacity to flourish and thrive after experiencing significant trauma and upheaval in their young lives.” (Principal)
“The three Syrian girls in my class have made a real positive impact on the rest of my students. My class has become more understanding and aware of other cultures. They have learned to respect their differences while realizing that even though they may dress differently, eat different food than them and speak a different language, they are not all that different from them. My students have become compassionate about their situation and realize to be thankful for the safety and stable life they have in Canada. (Grade 4 Teacher)