For Jesse Bourne’s class of Grade 7 students at Gateway Christian School in Red Deer, current events have been hitting home in a big way.
Over the past several months, Bourne and his Social Studies 7 class have been hard at work on a project that focuses on the challenges and blessings that immigrants and refugees face when they come to Canada.
“The basis of the project kind of came out of our social studies curriculum and just studying Canadian history. When we look at Canadian history, immigration and refugees are a big part of our history,” said Bourne, noting the project also lends itself to recognizing the issue of immigrants and refugees is still important today.
“The story was starting to think about that and recognized that in Red Deer we’ve had a lot of influx where we kind of brought in — in Red Deer Public Schools — quite a few Syrian refugees. So we decided to write storybooks that would focus on what it’s like for the refugees when they get here.”
In order to accomplish that goal, Bourne and his students decided to connect with a few students at West Park Elementary School and Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School that are brand new to Canada in order to gain a better understanding of what they’ve been through as they try to settle into their new home.
“I think lots of times, especially something like the Syrian refugees, there’s been so much media on it and kind of on the two sides and it creates a real contentious issue. It kind of gets forgotten that these are people and these are kids and now they’re living in this new country,” Bourne said, noting the heart of the project was to create understanding and give some of the Gateway students a chance to meet some of the kids who had recently moved to Canada.
He noted that meeting the refugee students and hearing their stories has had a huge impact on his own students.
“It just brings some reality to them. I think our kids go in and they don’t quite realize the struggle that this would be,” Bourne said.
When the students finally meet with the refugees though, those challenges and struggles are quickly brought into perspective.
“I think they start to understand to a fuller measure what it would be like.”
One example those challenges, Bourne pointed out, is the transition to learning in English. Some students have to make use of an interpreter in order to communicate with their classmates and teachers, which can make learning extremely frustrating.
“I think they start to get the frustration that it would be for them. I think probably at times, whether it was at West Park Elementary with the Syrian students or when we had the Thurber students come over — (my students) are probably frustrated at times because they’re trying to hear (the refugee’s) story and they can’t. I think that really just helps them to connect with the difficulties.”
The project also provides the Grade 7 students an opportunity to hear about some of the things that makes Canada a great place to live in the eyes of someone who is brand new to the country.
“It’s not some big thing on a news headline or something on social media that says we should think this about refugees or we should think that or immigration’s bad or it’s good. It localizes it and these are just real people at the school down the street.
“It just helps build bridges.”
Bourne added that after spring break he is hoping to bring together all the students and families who have been part of the project in order to share the storybooks and build a sense of community within the school and district.