Two school boards that encompass Cape Breton and part of eastern mainland Nova Scotia have a blueprint laid out for welcoming Syrian students into the school systems.

School board officials say the starting point is for families, once they arrive, to have some breathing space to be a "family first" — before moving on to become part of a new community in a new country.

The acting director of programs and student services for the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, Cathy Viva, said while families settle in, they will receive a document from the Department of Education that explains, in Arabic, how the school system works.  

There's also, she said, a Welcoming Newcomers document available to teachers and other members of the school board.

Another school board official, Stephanie Campbell, said although school-age newcomers won't be ready for the classroom right away, an idea has been put forward by the principal of the school in Marion Bridge, where a Syrian family is expected to settle.

The Syrian students "can certainly be invited to school activities that are not academically based," she said. "So any kind of fun days or skating or any activities of that nature, they would actually be invited into, to get to know their classmates and get to know that school environment."

'Build trust with the family'

She adds the same invitation will likely be extended to Syrian children who will attend Jubilee Elementary in Sydney Mines, where another community group is sponsoring a refugee family that has not yet arrived.

In the Antigonish area, served by the Strait Regional School Board, there are 10 recently arrived Syrian students who are eager to help fellow refugees who settle in the area.

As for learning the language, Campbell said an English immersion program will emphasize oral language at first, with writing skills and grammar to be taught later.

Janice Campbell, director of success planning for the Strait board, said there's an equally important education track for Nova Scotia students who will be expected to welcome the newcomers.

The school board will "make sure the students learn about the general culture of the families, and maybe the community they came from, so they have some background," she said.

Students will also consider what kind of trauma the refugees and their families have been through.

"So our students will be understanding of that."

Campbell said from what she's seen in the Antigonish area, the refugee students want to start school as soon as they can.

"Build a trust with the family, and make sure there's trust when they're coming into our building."