The public division has 565 students who are refugees, while the Catholic division has 304. With a combined overall student population of 42,356, this means 869 students — more than two per cent of the K-12 student population — hold refugee status based on last year’s enrolment numbers.
Public division staff said the student population gets more diverse every year, and students are some of the best ambassadors for newcomers.
“The classrooms today are not always predominantly Canadian students,” said Laurie Anderson, an English as an Additional Language consultant at the division’s newcomer student centre.
“Some of them certainly would be, but new families are often very surprised with the diversity of our classrooms … so in most classrooms, there would be students from other countries, students that are still learning English … so hopefully newcomers can feel like there are other people in their shoes in the classroom.”
While the division does offer newcomer students and their families supports — like the opportunity for a school tour and an introduction to their classroom teacher before joining the classroom environment — certain aspects of a student’s social and cultural education will be supported by fellow students alongside staff, said Shauna Tilbury, the division’s co-ordinator for English as an Additional Language.
“If you’ve ever been to another country and tried to survive in that language, it’s difficult to learn everything in the first week. I think that our newcomers learn things alongside their peers,” she said, noting parents and students will educate each other on their own Canadian experiences through “dinner table conversations.”