British Columbia

Newcomers to Canada learn how to navigate start of school year in Vancouver

Newcomer Orientations and Welcome B.C. helps newly arrived immigrant families adjust, says Jerry Wu, manager of settlement workers in schools for the Vancouver School Board.

A two-day event welcomes around 600 parents, students from 56 countries

Hina Handa, left, with her daughter Bhabya and husband Karan Handa during the Newcomer Orientations and Welcome B.C. event at Sir Charles Tupper Secondary school in Vancouver on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The start of a new school year can be an anxious time for parents and students, especially for those who are starting a new life in Canada. 

The Handa family moved to Vancouver from India two months ago. Parents Karan and Hina are worried their five-year-old daughter Bhabya will have problems in a new social environment. 

"This is my biggest fear that she might not be able to make friends, but that is the biggest opportunity as well because she'll learn how to do that," Hina Handa said. 

That's where Newcomer Orientations and Welcome B.C.  — NOW B.C. — can help. The two-day event held at Sir Charles Tupper Secondary near Main Street and King Edward Avenue in Vancouver can ease anxieties by providing information. Parents and students attend workshops in ten different languages about what to expect in the first few days of school, says Jerry Wu, manager of settlement workers for the Vancouver School Board.

Immigrant students and their parents attend workshops and orientation classes prior to the start of the school year as part of the Vancouver School Board's Newcomer Orientations and Welcome B.C. event. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Wu said volunteers help answer questions about curriculum, who can help new students at school and how to approach school administration if parents or students have a problem. 

Volunteer Leonard Zheng can relate to the Handa family. He moved to Vancouver four years ago from China and didn't know any English at the time. 

Now the Grade 12 student at Churchill Secondary said he wants to help other students because he was once in their shoes. 

Leonard Zheng, youth ambassador for the NOW B.C., says he wants to help others who are coping with a new school and a new country. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"I love seeing new faces and happy faces and I love to make new friends with them and also to give them a little help if I can," he said. 

Connecting with other services

NOW B.C. also connects the families with local services including neighbourhood houses, non-profits organizations catering to immigrants and organizations like the YMCA and TransLink. 

For the Handa family, getting information in one place about the resources available to them is a relief. 

"There are so many things that you can't just find online, it's not possible and they are available for you but you're just not aware of them," said Hina. 

The family said the next step is to get ready for Bhabya's first day of kindergarten at G.T. Cunningham Elementary school. 

"Everyday, in the morning, she asks me 'So, am I going to school today?' and I say no, there's still time. She's very excited," Hina. 

The event welcomed around 600 parents and students from over 56 different countries.