As I began my journey in the world of working with English Language Learners it was evident that a bigger connection between the school and community and family was needed. I think that was the seed of all the initiatives I started with attempting to connect all components that would make new families to Canada successful in their process of establishment.
The answer of how the entire family would be supported in their process was so clear to me because of the large supports that are available within our county, city, and province for newcomers to Canada. I decided to contact all those organization that provide support to immigrants to Canada and bring them together in a Community Support Night to attempt to bridge the gap between families and the community but also our district and schools to the support available externally.
I think that there is a lack of knowledge within the school system of what type of support we can be guiding our new families towards, mostly because we aren’t those new families ourselves and the need for us to seek it out is not apparent. For those new families, the understanding of where they can access help and how may seem daunting of intimating and trying to be that connector was my newest challenge.
At our Community Support Night, we had 10 organizations that agreed to come together in an informal ‘fair’ type of environment. Each organization set up a table with their supports outlined and a friendly face for any questions to be answered. I also set up a spread of snacks and hot drinks to make the environment more welcoming and open.
With this, we had some wins and some things we can grow from.
Areas for growth:
- I would definitely try and get students more involved. Initially when I was looking at this I wanted it to be something we presented to them and something they could access. However, I feel like more families could have come and could have been reached if they were there.
- The amount of families that attended were not as many as I anticipated. Reflecting on this, I feel as though having a separate night where families needed to take time off work and bare the Canadian cold was not the best idea. I think potentially pairing it with a night that invites families already like an open house, or three way conferences would have worked better.
- All the organizations had an amazing opportunity to get their message out to our school board and connect themselves with how they could help.
- Many teachers from within the district and our school came and met with the organizations to learn more about how they could use the help and expertise they provided.
- Some families were able to come and learn about the supports available to them.
- We built a stepping stone for our district and our school to be able to show new families that they are supported and we are willing to help them make these connections.
- We found a place for families in the community where they met others that will be able to help them build a network.
As I reflect on the way our Community Support Night went, I feel proud that we were the innovators that ushered in the change that our community and school board needed. As someone who truly cares about the well being of the families in our school my hope is that they know that they are supported and they have a place to come to if they need help.
I now have a Community Support board full of supports in our Cultural Centre and it is a place where new families will have access to the second they come to our school.
My challenge to continue to connect new families is still there, and potentially it will always be, but we definitely progressed in bridging that gap this week.
PS. Check out this awesome article published in the Sherwood Park News about our Cultural Center!