Calgary Board of Education prepared for Syrian refugee students

The Calgary Board of Education says it has a system already in place to make sure new students are placed quickly in specialized ESL programs and classrooms.

Teachers to assess English skills at Kingsland Reception Centre

A Syrian refugee carries children in southeastern Turkey as he and others flee intense fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

As many as 900 Syrian refugees are expected to arrive in Alberta before the end of the year, and among those will be hundreds of children ready to start school.

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) says it has a system in place to welcome those new students and help them integrate into classrooms.

"With the Syrian children coming we are expecting that there's probably some pretty low levels of English language proficiency or no even no English at all," said Christine Oliver, supervisor of English language learning for the CBE.

The CBE has a program in place where students with limited formal schooling or gaps in their schooling are put in a smaller class and receive more intensive support for up to two years.

Oliver says some teachers in these specialized classes will also be trained to help students who have experienced terror and war.

"They have witnessed some things that we can't imagine," she said.

Once students have gained a good English language foundation, they will be moved into mainstream classrooms, says Oliver.

Kingsland Reception Centre

Refugee families will be able to figure out where their kids fit in the public school system at the Kingsland Reception Centre.

Their children will be given an ESL test while CBE staffers and translators help them fill out enrolment documents.

"We have teachers in that facility who conduct language assessments, they look at the child's ability to speak, read and write, and do some math — all in English," said Oliver.

"Often they start school the very next day."

Newcomers will also greeted by in-school settlement workers from the Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth, which will help them with anything from housing to getting their phone hooked up.

Oliver says the challenge right now for the CBE is that it's not clear how many Syrian students will be arriving in the city before the New Year.

"The information has been changing.… There are changes everyday it seems," she said.

"So what we've done is we've planned different scenarios depending how many students arrive, what the profile of those students are and also what age."

Oliver says the CBE is aiming to have Syrian children and teens arriving in Calgary in the next few weeks starting school on Jan. 4.


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