Students and staff of English as an Additional Language (EAL) programs in the Halifax Regional Municipality say it’s been an emotional week, after finding out their programs in Dartmouth and Bedford will close in a matter of weeks.
“I’m broken hearted to be honest. I’m very, very upset,” said Anne Kelly, a teacher with the Dartmouth EAL program.
The closure of the programs is a result of changes to how they are funded by Immigration, Refugees and Services Canada, according to the Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB) which facilitates the EAL program. The closures are expected to impact 40 teachers and 350 students.
“They told us this school is going to close the end of March and so it was really surprising for us, all of the students,” said Jassem Shahryari, who moved to Halifax from Dubai in 2012.
Both Shahryari and his wife now participate in classes at the Dartmouth EAL school.
“I feel very sad about this because this school is very important for us,” Mariana Vidal added.
“This school for me and so many students, it’s like our life.”
Vidal said she moved from Brazil to Dartmouth a year ago, hardly able to speak any English. She said the program has became a central part of her life.
“It’s like our family, like our sisters, like brothers and the teachers for us is like our parents because some students don’t have a family here,” Vidal said.
The EAL programs have been in operation for nearly three decades.
According to HRSB, the goal of the programs is to help facilitate the cultural, social and economic integration of immigrants and refugees to Canada through the development of their English language skills.
HRSB spokesperson Doug Hadley told Global News they were aware changes were coming.
“They made it somewhat clear to us when we were asking questions in the last few months that they’re looking to fund multi-service agencies, so those agencies that can support newcomers, not only with language instruction but also in other areas like employment and housing,” Hadley said.
The Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) is one of those multi-service agencies that government is looking to fund. The organization confirmed they will be expanding their language programs beginning April 1.
Gerry Mills, director of operations for ISANS, said they are currently working with the HRSB to accommodate the language needs of the students who may make the move from the EAL programs.
“The most important thing right now is to make sure that clients’ language training isn’t interrupted,” she said.
ISANS currently offers between 35 to 40 language classes. They expect to add an additional 20 classes to deal with the influx of expected new students.
“In the long haul, a lot of the people that we’re serving with this expansion will be Syrian refugees and of course we have a lot of Syrian refugees right now.”
While the students will have the option to move to a new language program at ISANS, the teachers are uncertain what their future holds.
“We were told without a lot of warning that we’ve lost our jobs, ” Kelly said.
“For me, even more so, is the loss of the community of our school. Ever since I’ve been here for 23 years, we have built this school to be a community and to be a safe place for the students to come and we feel that we are losing that for no, really good reason.”
Brahim Adderramahmne, who moved to Canada from Africa last year, said the program’s staff were beneficial to his learning.
“I feel, myself, that I have improved my English very quick due to the experience of our teachers and our staff,” Adderramahmne said.
Teachers and students are hoping Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will rethink their decision to close the program.
“Government think about us because this school is very important for us,” Vidal said.
“Very important for my life and so many students and the government can’t close this school, please.”
The decision to change the way EAL programs operate comes less than a week after officials from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador announced details of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.
WATCH: Atlantic premiers aim to bring 2,000 immigrants to region with pilot program
The three year pilot project will see applicants arriving in Canada offered a job from a designated employer and individualized settlement plan for their family. The goal of the program is to bring 2,000 new workers and their families to the Atlantic region in an attempt to retain skilled immigrants.
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