TDSB prepares to help Syrian refugees integrate into new schools

In Toronto, a city that Mayor John Tory has said expects to take in between 2,000 and 2,500 Syrian refugees in the coming months, schools boards are moving to ensure the transition to Canadian classrooms is as seamless as possible for newcomers.

Syrian students undergo math, English assessments to help place them in the right classes

The TDSB's West End Welcome Centre is expecting to help seven Syrians from five families find new classrooms later this week. (CBC)

Among the most critical next steps for young Syrian refugees arriving to Canada will be integrating into the country's school systems. 

It is a challenging but essential step to ensure that they are afforded the same opportunities for an education as any other Canadian. In Toronto, a city that Mayor John Tory has said expects to take in between 2,000 and 2,500 refugees in the coming months, school boards are moving to ensure the transition to Canadian classrooms is as seamless as possible.

Susan Guarino is a Toronto District School Board guidance counsellor at the West End Welcome Centre, one of two facilities established by the board to help ensure new Canadians start off on the right foot at their new schools. They are preparing to help Syrian refugees in the coming weeks. 

"The first thing we do is a brief interview with the high school-age students and their families," she told CBC News. "We check documents, demographic information, find out about their education backgrounds."

Once that information is discussed, the next steps are hours-long math and English assessments, critical elements to understand where students might be placed.

Susan Guarino, left, and Madhulika Shukla, help the TDSB get students who are new Canadians off on the right foot at their new schools. (CBC)
"We have a range of materials, which are based on our own Ontario curriculum," said Madhulika Shukla, a math assessment teacher with the board, who says the work helps teachers and administrators determine where Syrian students will be "successful based on our own curriculum in TDSB classrooms."

David Goman, an English assessment teacher, told CBC News that perhaps the most important components for understanding how best to place new Syrian students in English classes are speaking, listening and "more formal assessments in the way of reading and writing."

"We'll have stories that we might do with them and formal writing in the way of paragraphs and essay formulation, depending on their level of English."

A day at the welcome centres finishes with a meeting between Guarino and the new students' families that centres on what school they will be attending and how to make sure they are getting the most out of the TDSB system.

It's not yet clear how many Syrian refugees will end up in Toronto school systems, as the government's plan to resettle 25,000 Syrians by the end of February is still ongoing. The TDSB's west end welcome centre, however, expects to help seven new students from five different families find their footing in new classrooms later this week. 

With files from Makda Ghebreslassie


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