Province adds money to help with influx of newcomer students
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A sudden influx of newcomer students — many of whom fled the war in Ukraine — registering in public schools across the province has prompted Manitoba to designate more dollars for interpreters and other K-12 settlement services.
Grade 9 student Michael Babych is among the hundreds of pupils learning in Winnipeg classrooms located a long way from the ones they were in before fleeing their war-torn homes.
The 14-year-old and his mother are from Zaporizhzhia, in southeast Ukraine. They sought refuge first in Hungary, then Ireland and, finally, Canada, where they have made a home since March; Michael’s father stayed behind to fight for their country.
“The hardest thing is a new life… and school, and the English language,” the high schooler said, with translation support from an administrator at Collège Miles Macdonell Collegiate Monday.
Since early August, the River East Transcona School Division has enrolled 512 newcomer children and youth in the 2022-23 academic year. The division recorded that same number of new arrivals in all of 2021-22.
In response to what the education minister called a “sharp increase” in the population of students who have recently fled war-affected countries, Manitoba Education is nearly doubling the overall grant money available via its intensive newcomer-support program.
School administrators across the province will be able to apply for grants totalling upwards of $1.8 million — a $900,000 increase from last year, to pay for employees and initiatives that support refugees and other newcomer students whose education has been disrupted.
Education Minister Wayne Ewasko hosted a news conference at Miles Macdonell, alongside RETSD superintendent Sandra Herbst and Kathleen Vyrauen, co-chairwoman of the Newcomer Education Coalition, to announce the commitment.
“We want all students to succeed, no matter where they live, their cultural background or their own personal circumstance,” Ewasko told reporters Monday.
Applications are expected to open before the end of the month. There is no cap on individual grant requests.
Homework clubs, intercultural support workers and translation and interpretation services are among the resources that are funded by these grants, said Vyrauen, who fields questions from immigrant and refugee students and parents in her role as a community advocate.
Vyrauen said she often hears concerns about language comprehension and cultural representation in schools.
In RETSD, newcomer students are referred to a specialized reception facilitator when they arrive, connected with interpreter services to register, if need be and introduced to settlement services.
Educators then meet with each pupil to determine an individual’s literacy and numeracy levels and whether they need any additional instructional supports.
In Michael’s case, because he is hard of hearing, the teenager’s transition plan has involved inclusion specialists and interpreters in both Ukrainian and American Sign Language.
The superintendent of RETSD said Michael’s mother became emotional during one particular meeting. “She was overwhelmed by the support available to her and to her son, including being fitted bilaterally with hearing aids and having access to an FM transmitter that amplifies the sound of his teacher’s voices,” she said.
Herbst added Michael is thriving at Miles Macdonell because of the supports in place while his school is benefiting from his passion for the piano and athletics, as well as his unique perspective on democracy.
Michael said his favourite things about his new school are the “more fun and more interesting” lessons from the ones he is used to and lunchtime.
Approximately half of the newest immigrant and refugee student additions in RETSD are from Ukraine. Other students have moved from Nigeria, India and the Philippines, among other countries.