PEI

Refugee kids coming to P.E.I. will need help adjusting, teachers learn

Island teachers are getting specialized training in helping refugee children and teens succeed in school and adapt to life in Canada.

Workshops help teachers develop strategies to foster students' mental well-being

P.E.I. teachers gathered Monday for a workshop on helping refugee students adapt. (CBC)

As Island schools expect to add as many as 50 refugee students in the coming months, 300 teachers and administrators are getting specialized training to help them adapt.

The first group of teachers spent Monday with University of Winnipeg professor Jan Stewart, whose research has taken her around the world, including Zimbabwe and South Sudan, to study how to best integrate refugee students.

"This isn't just about Syria,"  Stewart told the teachers Monday. "Your schools have refugee students from many different countries."

P.E.I. schools already have 130 refugee children from countries including Afghanistan, Columbia, Nepal and Sudan.

You have children coming into your classroom that come from such different cultures and such horrific experiences.— Janet Perry-Payne, P.E.I. EAL administrator

Stewart said it's easy to assume young people are doing well when they get to Canada after escaping horrible conditions in refugee camps or war-torn countries. But adapting to a new life isn't always that easy.

Stewart said some are still only a phone call away from the conflict back home.

"The situation is still happening for them," she said.

University of Winnipeg professor Jan Stewart says refugee children need to feel safe and accepted to learn in the classroom. (CBC)

"I believe that, no matter how hard you try, you can't teach away trauma, and if that child is feeling threatened in your classroom — no matter what you're trying to implement, whether it's math, or numeracy skills, literacy skills — you're really not going to be getting through."

'There's grief involved'

The workshop will help teachers develop strategies for conflict-sensitive teaching and learning, and offer ways to foster students' mental well-being.

"When you have children coming into your classroom that come from such different cultures and such horrific
experiences, the teachers really are taking a step back and trying to learn how to do this," said Janet Perry-Payne, the English as an Additional Language administrator for the province. 

She added that educators need to prepare to welcome the refugees by becoming as informed as possible, which includes the possibility that they could face racism and discrimination.

"We have a promise that we make that this is a better future. Many of our refugees don't see it that way because they're very sad," said Perry-Payne.

"There's grief involved in this process, and settling in to a new culture is difficult, leaving behind. And we need to work hard in education to accept, to learn new culture, while we welcome into our culture."

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