Welcoming Refugee Children to the Classroom 

Strategies to improve immigrant parent involvement

  1. Make it clear to parents that their involvement is encouraged. Offer them many ways to communicate with you. Explain the process for setting up a meeting with you. Explain to parents that they can and should communicate their interest to be involved in school events. Parents should communicate their goals for their children and ask how the teacher can help the child to reach these goals.

  2. Secure a translator for school events, whether formal events like parent-teacher conferences or informal events at school. For the initial meeting with the parents of the child, a professional interpreter should be invited. Do not rely on the student to interpret, if they are able to speak some English. Ask your school/board how this can be arranged.

  3. All communications home, such as homework schedules and newsletters, should be made clear to parents. Use numbered lists, arrows and icons when possible to explain tasks and priorities.

  4. Consider initiating a school “buddies” system for parents. Ask parents who are already involved in the school community to partner with parents who are new to the school district. These “buddies” can introduce immigrant parents to after-school programs as well as other resources that may benefit the family and answer any questions they may have about specific teachers or academic requirements.

  5. Similarly, find out if the school can refer new parents to existing bilingual immigrant parents who are already leaders at the school who may help new families acclimate to the school and community.

  6. Consider offering group parent-teacher conferences. Because many immigrants are collectivistic (as opposed to the more individualistic American culture), parents may feel more comfortable speaking together in a group setting.

Strategies for overcoming language barriers

  1. ESL students often get identified as having Learning Disabilities early on, when in many cases, the difficulty is in a language issue and not a learning disability. Be vigilant of this when helping a new student get accustom to new curriculum. Knowing how to book an interpreter is key. For the initial meeting with the parents of the child, a professional interpreter should be invited. Do not rely on the student to interpret, if they are able to speak some English. Ask your school/board how this can be arranged.

  2. Communicate with the teachers in your school that teach the student’s siblings, valuable information can be gained by sharing this information. Information received from all the students in that family might help you better understand things like education history, home situation, how to communicate with parents, etc.

  3. Where possible make parents aware of how to access the curriculum and learning objectives for their children. Provide them the link to your provincial curriculum for their grade. Or offer them a rubric or calendar indicating what will be taught and the desired learning outcomes for each month.

Strategies for creating welcoming environments

  1. Don’t assume that all children will be adversely affected by trauma as people react differently. The best thing that schools can do is to help create a welcoming and safe space for the children.

  2. All students need to know basics, which bathroom to use, what the bells mean, etc. These basic orientation items are important for creating a welcoming environment. Be sure to explain these things to your new students. Dual language visuals will help new students better understand the school space.

  3. The first thing in healing trauma is the need to create safety and a sense of being in control. Offer controlled choice. Give a lot of open choice about what new students would like to share about themselves so they feel in control of their story and the pace of sharing.

  4. Research suggests having at least one positive relationship with an adult at school has a huge impact, Be it yourself, or another staff member, taking an interest is really important. Let kids settle in, don’t ask them to talk about their past too early, but create space for them to open up when they are ready.

  5. Focus on building trust, emotional safety and positive peer and community relationships.

Strategies for discussing the issues (Syrian Crisis, Refugees, New student) with your classroom

The conflict in Syria, which began in 2011, has caused widespread displacement with more than 4 million Syrian refugees fleeing, mainly to neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.

Conditions in asylum countries vary but overall are quite poor. Iraq, Jordan and Turkey are the only three countries that have formal refugee camps; however, the majority of Syrian refugees (85 percent) live in non-camp environments such as urban centers or makeshift dwellings. Syrian refugees resettled to Canada will come primarily from asylum countries such as Jordan and Lebanon where local integration is not possible due to the overwhelming number of refugees residing in those countries

Classmates of refugee children will have many questions. Through discovery they can find general answers, which will help them understand the journey the refugees have made and how they were able to come to Canada.

  1. What does refugee mean?
    A refugee is someone who has left a dangerous place for a less dangerous place. You could help refugees from a hurricane by bringing them food and blankets. Refuge means shelter. So a refugee is a person that seeks shelter or a safe place, usually from war, natural disaster, or some other harmful situation.

  2. Check the world map and find Syria. Look for the countries that are nearby where the refugees may have gone when they fled.Find Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.
    Is Canada a neighbouring country?
    How do the refugees get to Canada?

  3. Share happy news stories about the arrival of recent Syrian refugees and how they were welcomed to Canada.

  4. Explain how the arriving families are receiving help with resettlement and how many people are coming to settle in Canada.

  5. Ask the children to write a story about what help they would like to receive if they had to move to another country.

It may be some time before the new student is ready to share the story of their own journey, where they lived along the way, what they carried with them, how they travelled, and how they survived. Help the children to be respectful and patient by creating a box where they can write down their questions to be answered slowly over time. Shift the discussion to ways the children can help them enjoy their new school community. Look at picture books together, play games, discover each other’s skills and talents in art, music, sports, and more.