Israa Hamish came from her home country of Syria four years ago and couldn’t speak a word of English.
“Always heard these good things about Canada and then the snow came and it was so cold and weird … especially in my country, we never had that sort of winter. It was cool but it was also kind of hard to understand everything since we didn’t speak the language,” she said.
In just a handful of years, Hamish learned English and was studying at Saskatoon’s Centennial Collegiate when the pandemic closed the school doors and virtual learning was offered to students.
“(Online learning’s) very difficult because usually … I could ask my teacher. I would take my homework and she would help me out with it but since we had online school at home, it was way more difficult. Especially since English is my second language,” Hamish explained.
“Seeing your teacher face-to-face, and asking questions is so much more effective than learning online.”
The oldest of five children in her family, Hamish said she pitched in helping her brothers and sisters with their online school.
“It was hard for my siblings cause they’re in elementary school, so it was tough understanding everything and how everything works with the computers and online and classrooms. Especially for my parents, my mom had no clue what was going on. Since I was in high school and I knew what Google Classroom was … it was easier,” Hamish said.
“I did help them actually when we had online school. But I feel like if you didn’t have an older sibling, it would have been very hard for the parents to understand.
“I think everyone had a hard time during the COVID-19 (shutdown). It was very confusing. No one knew what was going on.”
The 15-year-old said she’s excited for school next week, even if it’s math class.
“I will be actually going to school. I didn’t want to do online again for the same reason. Online is very hard to understand, especially for math. I’m not great at math and then I also want to ask my teachers things,” Hamish said.
“But no matter how much I search on YouTube and need different lessons, I don’t understand it very well. So for that reason I’m going to school.
“Same thing with my siblings. It’s easier for them. It’s easier for me. I don’t have to help them. I can focus on my school studies.”
Despite her desire to re-enter the classroom, she has concerns about the 2020-21 school year.
“I am, of course, concerned. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe if many people get sick, then school will again stop and we’ll have to do online school,” Hamish said.
“I’m also concerned that I might get ill or maybe if I’m ill I might transfer that onto someone else.
“I’m going to do my best. I’m going to wear masks. I’m going to wash my hands. I’m not going to be super close to anyone or hug anyone. But of course, you don’t want to get sick, especially if you have a family. I don’t want to get my siblings sick if I am. Yeah, that’s my only worry is … having (coronavirus).”
Hamish gives back to the community as a peer leader with the Saskatoon Open Door Society, an organization that helps newcomers transition into life in Canada.
“We basically help newcomers. Since I’ve been a newcomer and I needed help, now I can help others,” she said.
“(The organization) helped me with purchasing my school supplies and they helped me again with knowing what could happen during this year … and I think, when you go to school, you’ll understand and get used to things a little more.
“I’m hoping for a good school year and I hope everyone stays safe.”
Saskatoon Open Door Society CEO Ali Abukar said concerns are shared among all parents with school starting up throughout the province on Sept. 8.
“I think it’s just similar concerns that other non-newcomer parents have. Everybody’s anxious going back to school. Like ‘what’s going to happen?’ … ‘they’re going to be safe?,’” he said.
“But the biggest thing is just having that information communicated and our organization has been playing a role to facilitate that communication between the school divisions and the newcomer parents.”
Abukar said he originally started with the organization’s Settlement Support Workers in Schools (SSWIS) program back in 2013-14 and staff have doubled since then.
“The goal of (SSWIS) is to help newcomers, newcomer children and their parents integrate into the school system in Canada,” Abukar said.
“To help facilitate their transition into the schools by providing support, language resources as well as cultural resources and also help them understand how the (education) system works here and also act as a resource for the school staff to also connect with the newcomer parents.
“We do have very good relationship with our partners, especially in the (Saskatoon) school divisions, and we work closely with them to ensure that newcomer clients have access to the information that they need and support they need so that they can transition into the school systems very well.”
All Saskatchewan students were originally scheduled to start classes between Sept. 1 and 3; however, the provincial government announced in mid-August that was pushed back to begin safely welcoming students after Labour Day.
The Ministry of Education said the successful settlement and integration of newcomers is a shared responsibility among governments, school divisions and community partners.
It added the ministry facilitates the use of multi-lingual interpretation services by providing over the phone interpretation (OPI) services to all school division staff.
“OPI interpretation services are available in more than 200 languages and are accessible on demand. These services are intended to be used by school staff to assist in communicating with families who have a first language other than French or English,” read a statement from the ministry.
School staff may access this service for interactions such as registration, emergent conversations or whenever a need arises to communicate effectively with the family, according to the ministry.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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