Nova Scotia

Students learning to speak English fight to save program after funding runs out

The Halifax Regional School Board has told teachers in its English as an Additional Language program that their jobs will be ending on March 31 because the federal government is changing its funding.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada ending funding after nearly 30 years

The Halifax Regional School Board acts as a facilitator for the program, which helps adults learn English. (CBC)

Students enrolled in a program that helps adults learn to speak English say they're going to fight to save their school after learning Thursday it will soon close its doors.

For nearly three decades, the federal Department of Immigration has been funding English as an Additional Language classes at locations in Bedford and Dartmouth, while the Halifax Regional School Board acted as a facilitator.

But this year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada indicated it was looking at a different model of support, according to school board spokesman Doug Hadley.

"What we could gather from them ... is that they wanted to look to multi-service agencies who can support newcomers in all aspects of their transition to Canada — such as housing, employment, language — and they would much rather that be done through one agency," he said.

The decision means 42 employees have received their notices and 350 students will have to go elsewhere for their language training.

Students are now being encouraged to move their studies to the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS). The organization is set to expand its English training classes.

Not a unilateral decision, Ottawa says

A spokesman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the decision to switch language training facilitators was not unilateral, but did not say who was involved in making the choice. 

The immigration department "works closely with provincial and territorial officials to assess resource requirements and ensure that they are satisfactorily addressed," Carl Beauchamp said in an email to CBC News.

"The department is continuing to work with other [service provider organizations] to ensure that the needs of our clients are satisfactorily addressed."

'I feel that they are my family'

The news blindsided both students and teachers.

Classes banded together Thursday morning to write letters of protest about the move.

Maisaa Al-Adomi says her English classes in Bedford have given her the sense of community and the confidence to speak a new language since moving to Halifax. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

"We are all of us in this school under a complete shock," said Maisaa Al-Adomi, who is originally from Yemen. "It is a very high level education."

Al-Adomi has been attending the school for two years, and said it makes her feel safe.

"I feel that they are my family — the students, the teachers," she said. "We cannot imagine that we will continue studying without them."

Michael Margulis moved to Halifax from Israel last year and started studying at the school in the fall.

"Here we study not only language but we also study history, culture of country. We meet different cultures, we meet different people."

ISANS taking on more teachers

Student Stephanie Civil doesn't understand why the change is necessary.

"We have already our connection with our teachers," said Civil. "Now it will be difficult for us to restart and go with other teachers."

The operations director for ISANS, Gerry Mills, said there will be at least 300 vacancies starting April 1.

The English-language program is ending March 31. (CBC)

She said the agency will take on more staff, including instructors, as well as people who can provide child care while parents are in class.

School board sympathizes

Hadley said moving the program to ISANS is the best outcome in an unfortunate situation.

"We can understand that it's tough information to hear from the board for the employees, and we very much sympathize with them. So we're very pleased that ISANS is willing to move on this, and wants to work with them as quickly as possible."

Kelly Cormier is losing her job after 22 years at the English language school. She was shocked to learn the program was ending while so many former refugees are moving to the area. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

That's cold comfort to the teachers, some of whom have been working with the program for more than 20 years.

Kelly Cormier, the language co-ordinator, said the transition could work, but questioned if it's in the students' best interests.

Many of the students are Syrian refugees and she said stability can go a long way in helping their transition.

"I think offering language separately in a language school can create a sense of family, a sense of belonging," she said. "In a world where these people have come from, they haven't had that. I think it's really important."