Program helps integrate newcomer students


author: ethan williams | contributor

newcomer students

Welcomed with open arms


Support for newly immigrated kids and parents

When Alma Urbiztondo arrived in Regina with her family from the Philippines recently, she noticed it had a bit of a different feel from her home country.

“Regina is more laid back, so we like that kind of environment. People are more welcome here.”

Her family settled into their life here, and also began participating in programming through the Regina Open Door Society. After enrolling her son, Angelo, at Miller Comprehensive High School, the family was given a new students package, which outlined a program through Open Door called OWN (Orientation Workshop for Newcomers) which helps students beginning high school in Canada transition easily.

She says the scariest thing about a new school in a different country for her son is learning a different structure of education.

“He’s enjoying that they don’t have a lot of homework, whereas compared to the Philippines, we spent the weekends doing his homework.”

Angelo will be starting grade nine at Miller this fall. The family came from the Philippines because there were better opportunities for them here. It is programs like OWN that help the family understand education in Canada.

The program, formerly known as Newcomer Orientation Workshops, is overseen by Mayah Stratton, who is the Settlement Support Worker in Schools Team Leader with Open Door. She says the program has been running for about four years now.

“This was a program created in Ontario to help newcomer students to ease into their high school and elementary school life. Its goal is to provide the newcomer student of knowledge on how the Canadian education system works, and give them a point of contact, which is someone they can see as a friend and will help them transition into the education system in Regina.”

Stratton says the program was adopted in Saskatchewan first by Saskatoon, and the Regina Open Door Society adopted it from them. OWN has been growing in size each year, and this year has been particularly successful.

“We haven’t finished all orientations yet, but so far we have trained sixty peer leaders from ten different schools in Regina, and have offered the program to over two hundred students,” says Stratton.

As expected, OWN is an extremely diverse program with students from all around the world.

“It’s a variety. It’s a mixture of immigrants and refugees, and some of the students were English as an Additional Language (EAL) students in Grade 8. We have students from the Philippines, Congo, Afghanistan and Sudan. Our peer leaders are from different cultures as well.”

The program doesn’t just stop when school begins. Stratton says there are resources to help the students throughout the year.

“It runs all year. The peer leaders run monthly meetings, and are responsible for meeting students that arrive after this orientation. The peer leader would be responsible for meeting the student at their school, giving them their own little orientation, like we’ve trained them to.”

For Angelo Urbiztondo, his mother says he is a bit anxious, but has some interests that he may transfer into high school life.

“It’ll be a new environment from when he was in grade school (in the Philippines). He’s into band, so I think that may be one avenue for him.”


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