For many students at St. Patrick’s Community School, this Christmas will be their first in Canada.
Last Wednesday the school held a get-together during the lunch hour to introduce a few holiday customs to students who are new to the country.
Students sat around tables to make Christmas crafts, took photographs with Santa Claus and received some treats.
Cheryl Nichols is an educational assistant and works with the middle school ESL students. She said this has been an ongoing tradition at St. Patrick’s. The goal has been to make the children feel welcome, at home, while having some fun.
“I think it went great. The kids had fun. There was a lot of creativity with the crafts. The little ones were excited to see Santa,” Nichols said.
The best part about holding the annual gathering has been connecting with students, she said, that getting to know them outside the classroom makes for more personal relationships.
St. Patrick’s has a high-proportion of ESL students — at least 60% of the school, Nichols said.
Many have come from the Philippines, the Ukraine, Spain and Africa, she added.
The Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE) was also on hand to assist with the festivities.
Herb Barrios is a settlement practitioner with the organization, which helps integrate immigrants and refugees into Canadian life.
Barrios said this event was to teach students a little bit about how people celebrate Christmas in their new home and including them in it.
One of CARE’s services is Settlement Support in Schools, to help students adjust to their new environments.
Barrios has done his fair share of adjusting. He was 11 years old when he immigrated to Canada from Guatemala, landing in Edmonton in 1988.
He recalled not speaking a word of English. The food was different. The weather: lousy. He said he understands the homesickness that some of the kids go through and presents himself as somebody who can relate.
“Having been through all of that, I know what they’re going through,” Barrios said. “Yep, I’ve been there, done that. Many of my colleagues have done the same thing.”
What helped were community-minded teachers who paid attention to students like him, who took an interest in getting to know him, he said.
He has now called Red Deer home for 20 years, working for CARE to help other newcomers.