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The Left Coast Solution: Educators and Stakeholders Collaborate on Integrating Refugees in British Columbia, Canada

Fri, April 17, 12:00 to 1:30pm, Virtual Room


Greater Vancouver schools in British Columbia, Canada, have led the surrounding population in responding to the particular needs of refugees in diverse and innovative ways. The objectives of this paper in a session are to provide insights to the mutually beneficial relationships between educators and those who support refugees in the community. Theoretical frameworks that are most suited to collaboration around vulnerable refugee populations are feminist theory, multicultural and social justice approaches (Crethar, Torres Rivera, & Nash, 2008). These theories respect the values and social contexts of people’s lives and are aimed not only toward helping individuals in their struggles, but also advancing transformation in society (Herlihy & Corey, 2013). As the two major challenges for many refugees are trauma and preliteracy, the author’s method was to interview teachers, administrators and the psychologists who were brought into classrooms to work directly with students and hold workshops on adapting curricular goals around social-emotional learning (BC Ministry of Education, 2015, December; Hymel, Low, Starosta, Gill, & Schonert-Reichl, 2017). Further, the arts are sometimes considered a "universal language" that refugees use to communicate while they are acquiring English language skills. Expressive Arts facilitators in the school’s report on the importance of refugees sharing their stories with others which may reduce their trauma and allow them to see their lives as having positive new beginnings (Galina, 2014; MacDonald, 2015; St. Thomas & Johnson, 2007). For middle school students, the Surrey School district (n.d.) has developed a Bridge Program that takes place in the summer before high school begins. Refugee students continue their studies in English in the mornings and participate in field trips, attend sporting events, hear speakers, and join in cultural celebrations in the afternoons. They learn they will have relationships with their teachers and school counsellors, and that police do not abuse their power. Understanding there are gangs in some neighbourhoods is important for this age group, as they can be lured into the drug trade with free cellphones. Moreover, students carry home important knowledge about health care and mental health services. Teachers realize the power dynamic in many refugee households is reversed because students are immersed in English language learning daily, and teachers may be educating the whole family on multiple levels, including housing, transportation and employment. Regarding refugee adolescents, the goal is to keep them in the education system if possible; however, their impulse is to support their families, and build on their strengths and resiliency. Schools are currently examining the possibility of expanding paths to vocational careers. For others who are able to acquire academic skills, scholarships have been established to smooth the way to post-secondary education and beyond. This research concludes that refugee education has made great strides since the 2015-16 Syrian wave, and the scholarly research that highlights the valuable collaboration between educators and stakeholders has had a significant impact on refugees, their services, and the British Columbia communities that support them.