Immigration wave packs Neepawa schools

Neepawa is struggling to accommodate an influx of immigrant students after seeing 1,200 people arrive in the past three years.

Manitoba town has seen 1,200 new residents in past three years

Neepawa, Man., is struggling to accommodate an influx of immigrant students after seeing 1,200 people arrive in the past three years. 2:10

Neepawa, Man., is struggling to accommodate an influx of immigrant students after seeing 1,200 people arrive in the past three years.

"We’re starting to run out of space," said Jason Young, the superintendant of the Beautiful Plains School Division.

The western Manitoba town, which sits about 190 kilometres west of Winnipeg, has about 4,300 people now, up from 3,100 three years ago.

Many of the people who have immigrated to the town have come to work at HyLife Foods, a pork processing plant in the area.

Shyla Urriza came from the Philippines with her family when her husband got a job at the plant in 2010. She said her family plans to stay in the city.

"It’s so quiet, so peaceful," she said.

Her five-year-old son Shellwyn is scheduled to start Kindergarten next week.

"He’s so excited to go," said Shyla.

He’s one of about 40 new students the school division will see this year alone.

The influx of students has prompted superintendant Jason Young to request funding from the province for a new school in the town.

That request was denied. Instead, the province provided funding for four portable classrooms.

"It’s a standalone classroom. [They] have their own ventilation and heating. They’re very nice inside," said Young.

But next year the school anticipates about 130 new students, which would require an additional five portable classrooms, bringing the total up to nine.

Challenges ahead

The school has already taken measures to try and increase space. They moved their Grade 6 classes from the elementary school to Neepawa Collegiate.

Young said he will make another request for an additional school, but even if that is approved, it wouldn’t be ready in time for the extra 130 students.

"The greatest challenge won’t be this year. It will be the 2014-15 year," said Young.

And space isn’t the only issue educators are contending with. Many of the immigrants have arrived from the Philippines and South Korea so there are significant language barriers in some cases.

"We’re addressing that by giving our teachers the appropriate training they need to integrate those students," said Young. The school is also doing a special intake for English as an additional language teachers.

Principal welcomes diversity

Kelvin Hollier is the principal of Neepawa's high school. He said despite having trouble finding space for everyone, the diversity is a welcome change in the small town.

"We have been a predominantly Caucasian school and community. We haven’t had a whole lot of ethnic diversity within our schools," said Hollier. "The addition of South Koreans and Filipinos to our school community has been excellent. It’s making us aware of the world out there and around the Westman area, so it’s been very good."

So far, Hollier and Young said bullying and racism have not been issues at the school, and the division has been proactive in promoting acceptance and respect.

Young said the division knows there could be challenges ahead.

"I think my worry is as space challenges come upon us and more of our students are in portable classrooms, that people start to want things the way they once were," he said.

"People sometimes look for, ‘What’s caused this?’ So we’ve got to monitor that closely, but up until now, our students have been very good."

Young said though space is a challenge, the division’s top priority is making students feel welcome and putting them on the path to success.