The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union is calling on the province to hire extra staff and provide more resources for teachers struggling to meet the needs of the Syrian children now attending schools across the province.

Shelley Morse said teachers, particularly those in the Halifax area, are feeling stressed.

"The teachers are all concerned about giving them the best possible education for those students, and those students that were already in school, so teachers are finding it overwhelming," she said.

Since November, more than 1,000 refugees have settled in Nova Scotia as part of Canada's effort to aid those fleeing the Syrian civil war. Those families include 322 school-aged children who are now enrolled in classes.

Seventy more are expected to register in the weeks to come at Halifax-area schools.

Most new students in Halifax

The Halifax Regional School Board is shouldering the largest number of newcomers.

There are currently 252 Syrian children enrolled in the board's schools, some who have never attended class, Morse said. Most started school knowing only a handful of English words.

Here's a breakdown of the number of Syrian students by board:

  • Annapolis Valley Regional School Board – 17
  • Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board – 8
  • Cumberland Colchester Regional School Board – 9
  • Halifax Regional School Board – 252
  • Conseil scolaire acadien provincial – 2
  • South Shore Regional School Board – 10
  • Strait Regional School Board – 11
  • Tri-County Regional School Board – 13

'Prepared for everything but education'

Morse said one Halifax teacher has seen her class grow by 10 students, from 20 to 30 students.

A former teacher herself, Morse said there needs to be more teachers, particularly ones with an Arabic background and more English-as-an-additional-language teaching material.

Shelley Morse

N.S. Teachers Union president Shelley Morse says the Halifax Regional School Board should have anticipated and been better prepared for the needs of refugee students. (CBC)

She doesn't think enough forethought went into what teachers in Halifax would need to deal with the influx of high-needs students midway through the year.

"Certainly the provincial and federal governments should have made sure that there was money in place," she said.

"They were prepared for everything but education is what I'm gathering. They found people a place to live. Got them clothing and made sure they had money for food but I don't think they thought the education process through fully."

Province has given boards $100K 

In an emailed response, the Education Department listed all it has done to date to support teachers.

It said the department provided $100,000 to the boards to help with "additional learning resources, school supplies and translation services for the Syrian newcomers."  

"We are prepared and have taken a co-operative approach with school boards to ensure students receive the support they need," the statement said.

The province also said it created an Arabic language brochure for parents, provided suggestions and tips for principals and staff on how to welcome the newcomers, as well as provided a professional development session for school board staff.

In terms of specific support to the Halifax board, the province listed the following extra resources:

  • 0.5 full-time equivalent EAL teacher
  • 1.5 full-time equivalent classroom teachers that speak Arabic
  • 1.0 full-time equivalent teacher at Duc d'anville Elementary that has an EAL background
  • Extra time for teachers to meet with students, assess them and meet with parents in order to help integrate students into classrooms and figure out the supports that are needed
  • 17 substitute teachers were initially hired. Now that number is down to 11, as the students settle in