Almost tenfold increase in newcomer registration since 2017: ADSB

Soo Today

Kenneth Armstrong Soo Today October 4th 2022

Years of work developing a program welcoming students new to Canada has paid off for the Algoma District School Board as it continues to experience an exponential increase in the number of new English language learners.

The term English language learner (ELL) refers to students whose first language is one other than English. It is a change in terminology with more emphasis on the needs of the student, compared to English as a second language, or ESL.

In 2017, ADSB enrolled 27 English language learners from five different countries, said Megan Turner McMillan, coordinator of English language learner/multilingual learner program for the board. So far this school year, the board is welcoming 250 students from 44 different countries who speak a total of 35 languages.

That's an almost 10-fold increase in just six years.

“It continues to grow, I had another family come in on Friday,” Turner McMillan told the board during its October meeting held Tuesday.

“It’s great to see this unfolding and it’s great that we keep shaping it to what the needs are. It’s very exciting to see the growth,” said Lucia Reece, director of Education.

Of those 250 ELL students, 68 are new to the board this school year.

A breakdown of the countries of origin for those students show 15 are originally from The Philippines, while an additional 10 hail from Ukraine. Seven of this year's ELL students are originally from India, while South and Central America account for a total of 14 students.

Canada, United States, China, Japan and Russia make up the remaining countries of origin.

Spanish is the most common first language of this year's new ELL students, followed by Russian and Tagalog. Some other languages include Ukrainian, Hindi, German and Portuguese, among others.

Of the 68 ELL students who are new this year, 42 per cent are in Canada because a parent or parents are on a study permit to Sault College or Algoma University. Eighteen per cent have a parent or parents on a work permit and 16 per cent are in the country as part of the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel.

When possible, the ELL students and their families are welcomed in person to the board office to register and to receive a family interview. The student is assessed to determine where they are at academically, identify their strengths and plan for next steps.

Once in the classroom, an effort is made in the first days to make the student feel welcome in their new environment. Signs are posted in multiple languages and a peer helper is assigned. ELL students are taught survival phrases, like using the washroom or getting a drink.

Turner McMillan said extra support may be offered to students who have experienced some trauma in their background, as identified in the family interview.

Everybody plays a part in creating a sense of belonging for the newcomers.

“Right from our bus drivers to our care staff, our receptionists, educators and fellow students,” said Turner McMillan.

Board member Susan Myers said newcomers have been on her mind after she saw recent news reports of the violent beating of a 15-year-old Syrian orphan in Ottawa earlier this school year. Ottawa Police called it a hate-motivated assault.

“At the time I heard it I thought I am sure this would not happen at ADSB, so this presentation tonight is really timely for me to know what is going on and I really appreciate the work," said Myers.

The program is operated with the help of a number of community partners, including Sault Community Career Centre, Sault College and Algoma University, as well as the Federal Rural and northern Immigration Pilot. 

Board chair Jennifer Sarlo told the board about an elementary school graduation she attended last June at Parkland Public School, where about half of the graduating class were newcomers to Canada. The Syrian-born valedictorian was an example of the success of the program.

“She talked about her experience coming to Parkland in Grade 4 and not knowing a word of English. And here she was valedictorian, being celebrated and her speech was extraordinary,” said Sarlo.