Refugee students in St. John's get support and supplies from Facebook group

Refugee students are having a more difficult time adjusting to the Canadian school system than international students who know what they're signing up for, says a researcher.

The group Support Newcomers in St. John's was started 2½ years ago

Masoud is about to begin Grade 1 in St. John's. Support Newcomers in St. John's has helped get the school supplies he needs to take off the stress of beginning a new school in a new country. (David Gonzalez/CBC)

Refugee students are having a more difficult time adjusting to the Canadian post-secondary school system than international students in the country's universities and colleges who know what they're signing up for, says an educational researcher.

According to Dr. Xuemei Li, an education professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, language is only the first barrier refugee students have to overcome.

"Understanding our educational system and bridging the gap in their own learning, it's a very overwhelming process," Li said.

"As to course selections, and how to interact with classmates, with the teachers, how to position themselves — because in different cultures student-teachers relationships are different — so these culturally different perceptions affect their interactions here."

Dr. Xuemei Li of Memorial University says patience and peer support is important for welcoming new Canadians into a new school environment. (Dr. Xuemei Li/Submitted )

Li says confusion and misunderstandings can be common among new Canadians, especially those who are new students.

"Sometimes you just have to repeat things again, again, again to make sure they truly understand. So you check with individual members, right — students, parents — and make sure they truly understand," she said.

"I think peer support is very important, but kids may not know how. I had a student tell me their peers were so nice, and kind and they came up and gave them a big hug and it really shocked them. It was intimidating, because physical touch is not common in those cultures, especially across genders."

A helping hand

Susan Dean volunteers with the Support Newcomers in St. John's group. She also helps with the donation of school supplies to school-aged children and is a retired teacher.

The group was started roughly two and a half years ago on Facebook, where members can post items on the page to donate to new families.

"When you come to a new country and you don't speak the language, and you're going to school for the first day it's exciting but it's already a little bit stressful," Dean told CBC News.

Retired teacher Susan Dean volunteers with a group to welcome new Canadians to St. John's, including helping with donations of school supplies for children. (David Gonzalez/CBC)

"We try to make sure it's exactly what the child needs for their grade in their particular school.… We don't want to just put random supplies in because when they arrive maybe those things won't be useful."

The help and support is appreciated.

CBC tagged along as Dean made a delivery to Masoud, a Syrian boy who is about to begin Grade 1 in St. John's.

"I am happy," he said. "Thank you."

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