January 5, 2016 6:25 pm
Updated: January 5, 2016 7:24 pm

Syrian refugees prepare for school in Winnipeg

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WINNIPEG — Children among the first wave of Syrian refugees are preparing for their first day of school with a specialized integration course.

Language skills are the main focus of the Introduction to Canadian Education program but students also learn what to expect in a Winnipeg school.

Children enrolled in the Introduction to Canadian Education program at NEEDS Centre.

Sean Leslie/Global News

“The expectations of a classroom, raising your hand, asking to leave the room, using scissors, writing their name are all part of things that we teach here because some students don’t have those basic skills,” program manager Kirby Borgarts said.

The program has been compulsory for all government-sponsored refugees for the last ten years regardless of where they’re from.

Around 30 Syrian children are now enrolled but Borgart is expecting 24 more will sign-up on Wednesday.  After that 75 per cent of the students in the program will be from Syria.

Children taking the program at NEEDS Centre in downtown Winnipeg are between the ages of 6-17.

Children aged 6-9 in the Introduction to Canadian Education program.

Sean Leslie/Global News

“There’s a big language barrier and we tend to tell them it’s a safe place, a perfect place to practice your language in English and that helps,” facilitator assistant Takar Nur said.

The younger children are typically able to pick up English more quickly, he continued, “When they’re at that age, they’re like sponges, they absorb everything very quick.”

The program also explains cultural differences that some children may be unprepared for, including a multicultural learning environment, “We always practice being a team here and talking about respect and in Canada, no matter who you are, you’re all treated the same,” Borgart said.

Older students work on language skills at NEEDS Centre.

Sean Leslie/Global News

The children from Syrian refugee families will be involved in the program for at least four weeks or until they are moved from their temporary housing to a permanent home.

Then the children will attend a school in Canada for the first time.

“I’m very excited to play football and make new friends,” said 13-year-old Osama Ali, who’s been in Winnipeg for two weeks.

“It’s very beautiful to learn English and become independent,” said Tuqa Alharoug, 12, who landed in Winnipeg a week ago.

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