As Ukrainian students arrive in Canada, experts urge schools to be welcoming and culturally informed


Oksana Kosteckyj keeps a close eye on the Ukrainian children who joined RF Morrison Elementary this month, making sure they and their families feel welcome at the Winnipeg school.

There, this week, young newcomers participated in holiday activities – like baking paska (braided yeast bread) – sitting in brightly decorated classrooms ahead of Orthodox Easter this weekend.

“You could say that [the situation is] new to them, but the fact that there are Ukrainian speakers around them, you can see they are smiling,” noted Kosteckyj, Morrison’s assistant manager.

“This welcoming environment in terms of language and culture, you can just see the relief in them – and in their parents…knowing that they are coming to a school that can support their child’s education but can also support them in terms of of language and culture.”

Since the federal government unveiled an emergency program allowing Ukrainians to come to Canada as temporary residents in mid-March, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada approved over 56,000 of nearly 164,000 applications received. Since the beginning of the year, more than 19,000 Ukrainian citizens or Canadian permanent residents of Ukrainian origin have arrived, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

As this new wave of newcomers arrives, educators and settlement workers are highlighting what is needed to help refugee students successfully pursue their education in Canada.

Here’s what they told CBC News.

RF Morrison vice-principal Oksana Kosteckyj says she saw relief on the faces of her new Ukrainian students, like nine-year-old Hlib. “This welcoming environment in terms of language and culture, you could just see the relief in them – and in their parents.” (Travis Golby/CBC)

A favorable environment

Nearly a dozen Manitoba schools offer a bilingual Ukrainian-English program, and with RF Morrison having the largest enrollment, she is in a unique position to welcome Ukrainian children.

Providing a supportive environment with a clear and regular structure – the school, for example, has paired recent newcomers with Ukrainian-Canadian peers who guide them in their daily lessons – is a starting point “that greatly helps children to go through any sort of difficulty,” said Kosteckyj.

WATCH | Tips for educators hosting refugee students:

How schools can welcome and support refugee students

Oksana Kosteckyj, vice-principal of one of the Manitoba schools now welcoming new Ukrainian students, shares some tips on what teachers and school administrators can do to help refugee students transition into the Canadian school system. 1:13

In May, a professional development day is planned for all Ukrainian bilingual teachers in Manitoba, with a specific session led by a counselor “to talk about how to recognize trauma, how to support it and how to have a trauma-informed practice. school trauma. “, she noted.

In the fall, plans are underway for the counselor to return for another session for those teaching in Ukrainian, as well as those teaching in English.

Another useful strategy is to liaise with settlement service teams in the community. At RF Morrison, settlement workers should start “an after-school program for these kids to socialize, be together, and invite friends over,” Kosteckyj said.

Connect with settlement experts

Maryam Karimi also encourages educators to seek out settlement service experts who work across the country. Specifically, there are Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) programs that support families new to Canada; they can help register children in Canadian schools or act as interpreters or translators in meetings with school officials.

Settlement workers “are a bridge between schools and families,” says Maryam Karimi, coordinator of settlement workers in schools in Saskatoon. (Stefan Nenson/CBC)

“Schools do their best most of the time, I realize that. But there are definitely gaps,” said Karimi, SWIS coordinator in Saskatoon.

“We need to ensure schools are more welcoming, definitely more inclusive and work with settlement agencies to provide culturally appropriate services.”

While some school divisions and boards have been proactive in working with settlement service providers to help new students settle in, she thinks more should reach out.

Karimi sees the SWIS teams as a valuable resource that, in addition to helping with language challenges, can also offer advice on the difficulties newcomers have faced before arriving in Canada, share relevant information on the culturally and help educators engage and communicate more effectively with parents.

“[Settlement workers] are a bridge between schools and families,” said Karimi.

“[Students] need to have a sense of belonging. They need to feel ‘at home’…And when we are aware of the needs of our students and provide them with this information and support based on their needs, we can say that we are thriving communities.”

Learn more about and from newcomers

According to Snežana Ratković, teachers should actively listen and learn from refugee students, as well as challenge their own personal biases by not making assumptions. researcher and teacher in the faculty of education at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Learning to speak and write in English is indeed a priority, but teachers should not ‘obsess’ over lack of English as a defining defect because, depending on the student, it may be their second, third or even fourth language, noted Ratković, who herself came to Canada as a refugee from the former Yugoslavia.

Snežana Ratković, an education teacher and researcher at Brock University, who came to Canada as a refugee from the former Yugoslavia, encourages teachers to learn more about their newcomer students – as well as to avoid making guesses about them. (Andy Hincenbergs/CBC)

She encourages educators to find ways to highlight or recognize a newcomer’s strengths, including using non-verbal means of expression and learning – things like visual arts, music, photography or digital storytelling.

“It’s not just about reading and writing English, it’s about expressing yourself, engaging in different ways.”

WATCH | Cooking class helps Afghan refugee teens learn English and learn about Canada:

Afghan refugee teens learn about Canada while cooking

A Toronto high school helps teenage Afghan refugees learn about Canada and a bit of English while learning to cook. 1:54

Like Kosteckyj and Karimi, she also advocates reaching out and partnering with families and community groups.

For Ratković, it’s a way for educators to build stronger relationships with newcomer students and get help acknowledging their cultures, histories and values ​​within the classroom.

“It’s essential because the students have to recognize themselves in the program [and] in class in order to develop a sense of belonging. And without that sense of belonging, it’s really hard to do anything else, to teach or to learn,” she said.

Ideally, the researcher also wants to see more national conversations and information sharing about initiatives, methods, policies and “great things that people are doing in different provinces” to support refugee students.

As Canadian educators, “[we’re] I’m still trying to figure out what’s best, but I think what’s exciting is that there are so many options and there are so many people – teachers, administrators, academics and the public – who focus on these topics and try to find the best way to approach it,” Ratković said.

“Schools, they have the potential to be healing spaces for refugee students.”