Edmonton professors launch webinars to help teachers support refugee students

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WATCH: Two University of Alberta professors have launched a webinar series to help educators across the province with successfully integrating refugee students. Shallima Maharaj reports – Jan 8, 2017

The University of Alberta’s faculty of education is offering a series of interactive webinars for teachers, staff and other community members that help newcomers resettle in Canada.

Creating Welcoming Communities, an interactive webinar series for educators, began in response to the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees – over half of which are children under the age of 14 – coming to Canada. However, the information can be applied to newcomers from anywhere, professor Anna Kirova said.

“Many of them have not been in school at all or have interrupted school experiences, and don’t speak the language of course at the beginning, so what are some of the visual cues they can be given to follow routines? Routines are very important in school, not only for the functioning of the school, but also for the children to orient themselves.”

READ MORE: Edmonton summer camp helps Syrian students transition to school in Canada 

Kirova said her colleagues were hearing about school districts asking those with experience in refugee settlement to share their knowledge with educators.

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“Many school districts have actually approached some of the settlement service organizations to ask them to come and give talks to teachers in schools and give them some background of refugees; what it’s like to be a refugee and adjust to the school culture in Canada.”

They thought webinars might help get information to educators across the province more quickly and easily.

Their panel consists of an academic, a school counsellor or teacher and a community worker.

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

The webinars are done every two weeks at noon. They are interactive and allow educators to ask questions live. In addition, the webinars are posted online later, in case people weren’t able to watch them live.

They address a number of common challenges teachers might face and offer potential solutions.

“Language issues are common,” Kirova said, adding it’s not just the English language but the academic language used in a school setting. “It takes longer if the students are older… but it takes between five and seven years for anybody to be proficient.”

WATCH: Syrian students welcomed with open arms, but teaching resources being stretched 

Outside language, other hurdles can include the influence of trauma, social integration and cultivating a sense of belonging.

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Establishing that sense of community early on is crucial, Kirova said, and schools play a vital role.

“The school has a fantastic opportunity to actually make that happen for Canada.”

The project began in September 2016 and will run until April 2017.

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