Anyone who hasn’t been inside a school in this province in a while is in all likelihood not prepared for what they would encounter.
This is particularly true in urban centres and probably none more so than Walter Murray Collegiate in Saskatoon. All that’s required to confirm this realization is a cursory glance in the hallways as the students make their way to the next class. Step inside a classroom and it’s even more apparent.
While the school has an enrolment of 1,239 students, at least 10 percent are those who are earmarked for the English as an additional language program. This program represents upwards of 60 countries from around the globe.
It is therefore hardly surprising to see a dictionary placed alongside books in various languages. This is the new reality for an increasing number of Saskatchewan teachers. There are invariably challenges and stresses, but culled from conversations with the teachers, they speak from the heart when they say it has been the most rewarding experience of their careers.
When the strains of O Canada signify the beginning of another day, it brings extra resonance from what in the not too distant past would have been a decidedly different look. Equally profound if you reflect on it while looking at the world map on the wall in Kirk Jones’ classroom.
Look closer and you will see pins signifying where students have hailed from before landing in Saskatchewan as part of the province’s ambitious immigration policy in recent years.
Of course those pins in reality represent actual human beings. The stories of their often circuitous, to say nothing of perilous journeys, fills Jones with admiration for how they have coped with this significant upheaval in their world at such a young age.
Jones is the head of a five-member team at Walter Murray that has the future of these young people in their hands and it’s clear they don’t take the responsibility lightly. It’s also undeniable how the experience has changed them as educators and people as they have learned first-hand so much more about the world than many of us can imagine.
The notion from students that Jones might be quite strict in his approach with his Grade 9 class belies the moments he takes during the lesson to imbue them with self-confidence in what is surely a fragile time for many of them.
“I tell them sometimes they’re my role models, my heroes. I can’t imagine going to a new country and starting over again in a new language. I shake my head when I hear some of the stories these students share about how they came here, and then to think about how far they have come from not knowing a word of English when they came to the school. Talent is for sure part of it, but it’s the determination. I admire them so much. A common refrain
I often hear is that they have no choice but to learn English to live here and so they just do it.
“Any time there’s something happening in the world, those kids will quite likely wind up here at some point and they have some harrowing stories. Everyone has their own story.”
According to Jones, the team of educators at Walter Murray is committed to going the extra mile to try to help them make the adjustment–both inside the classroom and outside.
For further stories on this new reality, see pages 4 and 5 in this edition.