The Sunday Magazine

Deb Tully teaches refugee children to sing Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World"

As refugees arrive in Canada, schools are gearing up to welcome the children. If they're lucky, they will end up with a teacher like Deb Tully. She helps her students learn English, make sense of their new home, and celebrate how far they have come, by teaching them to sing Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World."
Deb Tully and her students (Photo by Alisa Siegel)
Each student has a hundred reasons not to sing this particular song; but in Deb Tully's classroom they belt it out. It's how they learn English and celebrate how far they have come.

Ms. Tully - or Miss, as her students often call her - has taught high school gym for nearly 30 years. She was about to retire when Ottawa's Rideau High School recruited her to teach English and math to newly-arrived refugee students.

They come from war zones and transit camps. They speak a dozen different languages. Many arrived not knowing how to write their own names; but, as their teacher learned, they do like to sing.

So each day, Deb Tully arrives at school armed with her guitar and tries to helps her students make sense of a new language and a new home. This year she did it with Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World."

Producer Alisa Siegel brings us this story in her documentary "What a Wonderful World", which was first broadcast in June, 2014.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?