Demand to learn English strains rural resources
More immigrants and refugees settling in Manitoba means additional pressure on schools to expand their programs that teach English as a second language.
ESL used to be centred in city schools because that's where most new arrivals settled, but in the past decade, rural Manitoba has seen a big increase in the number of immigrant and refugee students.
For instance, more school kids in southeast Manitoba are Mennonites whose families are flocking to the area because of their faith, jobs and affordable housing.
Many don't speak English when they arrive.
John Peters, the superintendent of the Hanover School Division, says the number of ESL students in the division has ballooned since 1998 from about 50 per year to close to 400 now. Peters says that increase stretches resources.
"Many of them move out into the countryside and so that means we have to transport these students," says Peters. "So our busses are full and we've had to add bus routes and we've had to buy busses."
The Brandon school division is also getting more ESL students, many of whom are refugees. ESL teacher, Sean Brown, says they need special attention.
"One of the things we've been told to look out for is the inability to stay in an enclosed area," says Brown. "Sometimes it's just sensory overload for them, they can't handle it."
Overall, schools say they need more money and staff to expand ESL programs. Tony Tavares with Manitoba Education says the province recognizes the situation and is increasing funding.
"I think the commitment is there," says Tavares. "We don't see necessarily that enhancements in funding would occur all at once. It would play out over a few years."
The department says it will also also create province-wide ESL guidelines to deal with the pressures facing rural schools.