Teachers at Regina Public Schools are asking for help to deal with the overwhelming needs of an influx of new Syrian refugee students.
Jeff Perry is the president of the Regina Public School Teachers Association. He said teachers are feeling the strain of providing support for 178 new refugee students who have arrived in the division since January.
“If we don’t have enough staff to meet those needs, then we’re pulling staff from students who are already receiving intensive supports to make those supports for our new students,” Perry explained.
The school division raised the same issue in early February, noting that there are 38 English as an Additional Language teachers but there is no additional funding available from the provincial or federal government to hire any more.
“Sometimes it’s within a school, within a program that the new students are added to the list of that EAL teacher, and so therefore they have to release some students because they can’t look after them all back to the classroom to work with their classroom teacher,” Perry said.
In some cases he is hearing that teachers are being pulled from one school to help EAL students at another school.
While the language barrier is a particular challenge for teachers, Perry noted that refugee students are also often coming from areas where they couldn’t attend school for years and may be dealing with emotional and psychological trauma.
He said the school division needs all kinds of support, from more EAL teachers, to translators, educational assistants, educational psychologists and behavioural therapists.
Perry admitted that it is actually difficult to tell exactly what supports these students require, because it’s hard to develop a relationship when there is a significant language barrier.
“This isn’t a quick fix, we just need money now, it’s going to be an ongoing issue as well,” Perry said.
He said it takes about two years for students to develop conversational English skills, but it can take up to seven years of support to build to the same level of academic proficiency as their peers.