A transition centre for students who are refugees and newcomers to Canada is one step closer to becoming reality after Edmonton Public School Board trustees approved a plan Tuesday to start developing a new program.

The board may eventually set up a separate school where children and their families can learn about the school system, Canadian culture and the English language.  Right now, it wants to do a pilot program for the most needy students in schools that already have a high concentration of newcomers.

"Some of the students coming have never been in a school before or have very limited contact with schools," said board program manager Karen Barty. 

"This centre would help them to understand what it means to be in a classroom, intense help in terms of their language, social, emotional supports, after-school programs, perhaps homework clubs, program supports for parents to help them understand what the schooling system is all about."

The students would stay in the centre until they felt they were ready to join the mainstream school system.

This program is a start, said Joseph Luri, who works for the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers and runs a homework club for immigrant students.

The current educational system doesn't work for many newcomers, Luri said. He wants the board to set up a separate school where children are grouped into classes based on their knowledge, not their age. 

"Some have been in the refugee camps for 10 years ... never gone to any formal school but now coming here and they begin learning English as a teenager, you don't get it,"  he said.

The board hopes to have the new centre running by the fall of 2010, but still needs to approve the funding. It wants to either set up the centre in a separate building or take over space in an underutilized school.