A new basic English language program is helping newcomer students adjust to life at P.E.I. schools.

The Functional Language Program offers beginner-level English to newcomer students to help them more easily integrate into the school system and communicate with their peers.

The program is offered at several schools in Charlottetown and Stratford and lasts between four and six weeks.

Though some students arrive shy, it doesn't take them long to open up and have fun learning the basics, says Valentina Malysheva, a teacher in the program.

'Such a joy'

"It's difficult, but they do it very fast," she said.

"If they can show their language, their writing, it's just such a joy to see how happy they are."

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Valentina Malysheva says teaching the children has been a joy. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

The program starts by teaching basics such as how to act in class, what recess is, what lunchtime is, how to ask for help, find school supplies and navigate the library, among other things.

Once students can communicate their immediate needs, they'll move on to colours, the alphabet, reading, spelling and writing.

'Proud of themselves'

"I never thought it could be so rewarding to see this," Malysheva said.

"It's just [an] unbelievable feeling when you see them coming here lost — they don't know what to do — and then they are happy, proud of themselves, of their country, of their achievement."

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The program also focuses on making children feel comfortable in the classroom. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Integrating into Canadian culture for newcomers can be difficult without a grip on the English language, said Janet Perry-Payne, English-French additional language program administrator.

"Learning a language is one of the most exhausting things that we'll see happen. By lunch time many of our little kids are ready for a nap, they're just really tired," she said.

'What we're also creating in the functional language program is a comfort level.' — Janet Perry-Payne

Teachers determine if a student is ready to leave the program after four or six weeks, or earlier if they feel the student is ready.

There was an instance where a child left the program and had to come back because they "closed up" in the classroom, Perry-Payne said.

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Janet Perry-Payne says the program has been tailored to each school to fit the needs of the children. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

"What we're also creating in the functional language program is a comfort level," she said. "Sometimes that doesn't exist in the classroom right away so we need to work toward a child feeling that, and that's been successful so far."

Education Minister Doug Currie said the program is a response to the changing face of classrooms on P.E.I.

"This is an opportunity for us to welcome a range of diversity and new cultures into our island schools, to make our schools rich," he said.

With files from Tom Steepe