Syrian children find comfort in numbers at Ottawa elementary school
110 of the 288 students at Carson Grove are recent refugees from Syria
When teachers at Carson Grove Elementary School in Ottawa call out the name "Mohammad," dozens of heads turn.
About 40 boys named Mohammad — or a variation of that spelling — now attend classes at the Gloucester school. Most are recent Syrian refugees. In fact, of a total school population of 288, 110 of the kids came to Canada from Syria.
Most arrived in the past year, part of the initial wave of nearly 2,000 Syrian refugees who came to Ottawa under the federal government's resettlement program.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board transferred the fluent Arabic-speaker to Carson Grove with a mission to help the kids from Syria — and their parents — adjust to their new environment as smoothly as possible.
"With the Syrians, they come from a country where it was 94 per cent educated people, everything, all the education was for free. Schools and universities. So yes they come and they are hoping their children will get the education they were hoping to get in their own country" Albari said.
Some attending school for 1st time
Many of the families whose children now attend Carson Grove fled Syria not long after the civil war there started in 2011, then lived in refugee camps until coming to Canada. For many of these kids, it's their first time setting foot in a classroom.
They don't want to miss a day of school, so they are happy to come.- Maha Albari, vice-principal
"They don't want to miss a day of school, so they are happy to come. When they are sick, they cry at home and the parents would call me and tell me, 'He's very sick, he shouldn't be in school but I have to bring him,'" Albari said.
Eight-year-old Samiha Almaslani arrived in Ottawa with her family in February. At the time, she spoke only a few words of English. She said she couldn't be happier at her new school "because everyone help me write and I have my friends."
Ali Mahil Altammo, 10, fled Aleppo with his family, escaping first to Turkey where he said people did not treat them well. But he doesn't want to talk about that: he'd rather discuss his linguistic skills.
"When I come from Syria to Turkey I speak three language: Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, and come to Canada I speak English and French almost," the Grade 5 student boasted.
Trauma counselling offered
To help put the children at ease, teachers at Carson Grove never discourage their students from speaking in Arabic to one another.
"We want them to progress and succeed and to speak their language, because we are not here to take their language away, Albari said. "So they speak between each other in Arabic, and sometimes you see them how they are switching to English."
We are not here to take their language away.- Maha Albari, vice-principal
As for how to deal with all those Mohammads, teachers at Carson Grove have adopted the same practical system used by schools with multiple Liams, Owens and Matthews: they tack on the first letter of the student's surname, so every child knows when it's their turn to stand out from the crowd.