Nova Scotia

Syrian refugees adjust to new life in Nova Scotia school

At Duc d'Anville Elementary School in Halifax, Jennifer Griffiths' grade four classroom is buzzing in English and Arabic.

Bilingual students at Duc d'Anville are pitching in to help Syrian refugees adjust to their new lives

Nine-year-old twins Sidra and Ali Hzim are refugees from Syria. They're now grade four students at Duc d'Anville Elementary School in Halifax. ( Elizabeth Chiu)

At Duc d'Anville Elementary School in Halifax, Jennifer Griffiths' grade four classroom is buzzing in English and Arabic.

Her newest students, Sidra and Ali Hzim, are nine-year-old twins and refugees from Syria. They speak little English so classmate Zaid Abdelrahman steps up and helps to translate Griffiths' math problem into Arabic.

Zaid is happy to help.

"I feel proud of myself for helping the teacher and translating for Ali and Sidra," said Zaid, who was born in Halifax and is fluent in both languages.

Farsi, Mandarin, Nepalese, and Swahili, are just a few of the 28 languages spoken at Duc d'Anville Elementary. (CBC)

Being bilingual, especially Arabic-speaking, comes in handy at this school located in the heart of Clayton Park, Halifax's multicultural hub. Students here also speak Farsi, Mandarin, Nepalese, and Swahili, among 28 languages.

But the Hzim children are part of a national story. They're the second family of Syrian refugees to register here since the federal government started its migration push last fall. So far 10,000 refugees have arrived in Canada.

Duc d'Anville's principal is expecting a dozen more

Language ambassadors

"It's a unique and special sort of opportunity. For me, I find it's very exciting," said Ken Rutley.

"We really want to make sure that we do everything we can so that it's a very positive experience so that as they go on in their education they have a good social and emotional foundation and learning foundation as they move on," he said.

Ken Rutley is the principal at Duc d'Anville Elementary in Halifax (CBC)

But the opportunity comes with challenges. There are no Arabic-speaking teachers at Duc d'Anville, where about 325 students are enrolled right now, many of whom do speak Arabic.

When it comes to instructions or issues that pop up in the classroom or playground, students who speak other languages bridge the divide. Some sign up as "language ambassadors."

Griffiths is glad that two of her students speak Arabic, and says it's great to have a diverse classroom. But as more Syrian kids arrive, "it's hard, I'm not going to lie. It's not easy," she said.

"We hope that as they come, the support is going to grow because they're going to need it," said Griffiths.

'Appreciative to be here'

Duc d'Anville does have resources. It has an English as an Additional Language teacher, as well as guidance counsellor. There's also a full-time YMCA school settlement worker on site to assist immigrant and refugee parents. With the influx of Syrian refugees, the school has received additional support to assess their English language level.

Rutley says he would welcome more resources at the school, but says the expertise and cooperation among staff are helping students to learn.

And it goes both ways. Teachers are learning from their newcomers.

"They're so appreciative to be here," said Griffiths. "When I go home at the end of the day, it makes me realize how lucky I am to be here," she said.

For Sidra and Ali, who both say their classroom is "nice," getting their Canadian schooling started is part of a dream.

She wants to be a nurse when she grows up, her brother wants to be a pilot or a doctor.


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