As one who has been involved in teaching English as an additional language to students for the past decade in the Saskatoon Public Schools system, Pat Barry has seen the pattern first-hand.
As he noted, it’s often no coincidence that some of the world’s hot spots in terms of tension tend to be where the students who ultimately wind up in Saskatoon schools hail from. He recalls in earlier days it was more Sudan and Afghanistan, for example, and now more recently Syria has been the country of origin for many who are trying to embark on a new life here.
“There are real similarities in a lot of cases in terms of the challenges they face; it’s not just learning English but also for their families to adjust to life here and to find housing for example. I admire these young people a lot when you consider they have often come from United Nations refugee camps and they have some huge gaps when they enter the school system.
“It’s the same for the families. One of the things that is common to a lot of the ones who wind up here is that they are risk takers when you consider the journeys and dangers they have faced and all they want is the best for their children. As Canadians, and citizens of Saskatoon, we should feel proud they come here,” Barry indicated.
Although there are no quick fixes for many of these students, Barry is adamant that vocabulary is of primary importance in leading to academic success.
“It’s a pretty major process to try to integrate into a whole new country and it’s not without hiccups. But that’s where we come in as teachers in trying to encourage them and getting them to gain the confidence where they can speak out loud in English,” he said. Barry added that this is a quality teachers inherently possess in wanting to help their students achieve success.
Barry did emphasize though that the resources teachers currently have are simply not sufficient. “In most cases these kids need one-on-one instruction just to get to the level where they can start to take the regular classes.”
While now at Walter Murray Collegiate, Barry thinks back to the earlier days in his career at Mount Royal Collegiate. It was there that he witnessed for the first time how some of these foreign students, who might otherwise have had serious religious or cultural differences, become best friends during the journey.
“A lot of what I’ve seen over the years has been a real eye-opener, but no question it’s the best, most rewarding teaching I’ve ever done–nothing else even comes close.
“I’ve seen the results and that’s really encouraging. I think it speaks well for the future.”
Barry is a history teacher and so he always had a general interest in world affairs, but this has become a greater interest since students from these far-flung places started coming into his classroom.
“A lot of people in Saskatoon have probably never met a person from these countries, but it has been such an enriching experience. I’ve developed some lifelong friends through this program and it has been terrific to share in some of the successes along the way,” he said.