‘I want to be Canadian’: Syrian refugee children start 1st year of school in Toronto

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For the Alcubra children, the return of classes Tuesday was extra special – it’s the first time they are attending a Canadian school since recently immigrating from Syria as refugees.

Rahaf, Odaai and Qusay Alcubra left their downtown Toronto home early Tuesday morning to go to their new elementary school with a sense of excitement.

“I’m happy to go to school, to have new friends, to learn a new language,” 11-year-old Qusay told Global News through translator Amal Kanafani.

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The family doesn’t speak English, but they look forward to learning the language.

“I will listen to everything the teacher tells me and I will be disciplined at school to learn the language quickly and to be Canadian quickly,” nine-year-old Odaai said. “I want to be Canadian.”

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For father Zayed, he said he is happy to see his children go to school safely.

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“We were in wars and there were no settlements for us. My kids, they didn’t go to school, to regular school and it was very hard for us to send them to school.”

While the prospect of joining an all new school community can be a mix of excitement and nervousness, the Toronto District School Board said supports are in place to help those in need.

“When you’re an adolescent, you’ve got lots of other different changes and things swirling around in your life,” ESL/ELD program coordinator Paula Markus said, adding the board has services to address the needs of new students in and out of school.

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“For example, some students will come from countries where classes are one gender only … and different countries have different approaches [to subjects taught].”
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Students under the age of 14 and their families have to go to their local elementary school for language and skills assessments by an ESL teacher. For those between 14 and 20, they have to attend one of two newcomer reception centres in the city for an interview as well as language and math assessments to determine their academic level.

Since Aug. 9, over 1,500 students from all over the world have registered with the reception centres.

READ MORE: Over 400 Syrian refugees gathered in Toronto to celebrate their arrival to Canada

Settlement workers and guidance counsellors are on hand to help the students and their families with accessing housing, health and social services. Markus said every TDSB school has access to a settlement worker if needed.

Markus also said the school board has a “buddy system” that aims to pair new students with other schoolmates who might share the same language or cultural background.

With files from Mark Carcasole

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