Limestone Success for Members and NewcomersThe focus of my Wiki paper is to highlight how significant small action, within a local, can create amazing and effective change: a change in relationships; a success story of building bridges in a community, and the resultant effects of the importance of relationships and communication. This dynamic began with teachers beginning to reach their breaking point. This breaking point was not in an average, November, report card stress, and demands of the job typical way, but in a way that began to create cracks in our hearts.

In Kingston, Ontario, we are lucky. It is a beautiful place to raise kids and has the ability to receive so many families from Syria. They are able to find housing in a neighbourhood with a K-6 school. The school that now has 34 Syrian children attending. This is an empowering experience for the teachers here and, not without challenges.

Over the past year at the school, the school received many students from Syria, and there was no design in the local education system to receive these families. Traditionally, the board received students who were ESL, but not a significant number of those who are ELL or EDL. The board and union needed to truly collaborate, in order to create a comfort zone from which we could move forward.

After consulting with the board’s lead ELS administrator, I learned that the board drafted a plan which included the key components,

“In conjunction with Immigration Kingston, KEYs and their settlement teams, a transition meeting is set up with the principal of the school, once a family has confirmed residence and have moved in. All key information is shared at this meeting, from the school perspective and an opportunity to learn about the families.
At that meeting, the plan of support for the first day(s) in the school is discussed. If beneficial, a follow up meeting is established for a week or so later to share and clarify any information from both sides.
Each family has a settlement team involved with them to support, and for schools to connect with, for the first 6 months, and further than that as needed.
The itinerant ESL teacher connected to the school is present, will complete an initial assessment in the early days, and based on that, build in direct support if needed into his/her schedule, along with communication with the classroom teacher to work as a team to support the student.
Connections with outside agencies and a protocol to access them has been established. Utilizing this protocol has been effective in individual situations to support students and their families already. Building capacity in our student support counsellors and ACW’s is ongoing. “

This was a success for the board, but after experiencing life with the children, whose stories were varied and diverse, did not address the issues faced by teachers every day in the classroom. Students were refusing to come in, the conflict on yards was creating cultural barriers in the community, and teachers felt ill-informed to move forward for student success and their own success as educators. This is when the local union executive became involved, in co-operation with the administration at the school.

Teachers and Their Stories

The local ETFO president, at the time, Mike Lumb, messaged the Steward, asking for information about what things looked like at the school and how teachers were handling the additional students. Teaches were candid because of the value placed on their experiences by the local leadership. Here are some excerpts from that letter:

“Teachers are going to burn out. They are exhausted, the moral is okay but just barely. The workload is beginning to break people. There are not enough supports in place. NO additional supports have been put in place in terms of most of the day for children. And, our supports already in place for our children is now being stretched, and then this adds to the teacher workload as the EA’s are being pulled and the SST is as well. Mental health issues are significant. People have increased blood pressure, are breaking down, and are not teaching. They are managing behavior. They are not trained in Refugee trauma and are expected to be the front lines….
So, so much Arabic being used in our school. I value and respect multiculturalism and that speaking in their native language helps them to feel safe, I also think it builds a barrier between other students, staff, and our Syrian students. Some of the boys do not respond to me, especially if escalated. Is this a language barrier? A cultural barrier? A gender barrier?
We need for ELLs students to speak their native languages, but also is that creating a gap with so many students not integrating with others?”

Clearly, teachers in the local were struggling, and it was predominantly isolated to this site. The teachers needed more experience and expertise, so that they could meet everyone’s needs.

In order to directly meet ETFO members’ needs, a provincial workshop was going to be brought to Kingston, looking at how to support Newcomers to Canada. This was going to be offered in the evening, with dinner provided. This was an immediate response and a meeting time was established.

Following this, our administration continued to advocate on behalf of the students at the board office. Additionally, the Steward, as a liaison, continued to advocate, and the local leader continued to address the members’ needs at a board level. In December 2016, the 6-page letter was read to the Senior Staff emphasizing the significance of the need at one of their schools.

The school staff, in conjunction with the principal, met to discuss what needs should be addressed, and how. The Steward gathered the voice of the collective members, and advocated at the meeting to continue to build supports for members.

Draft Plan Developed On-site to Support Newcomers and Teachers

Student Arrival for a Transition Meeting with their family
Transition Meeting to take place as per protocol
*new action: administration invites members to attend the meeting if they are to receive a new student
Student and family tour the school
Student arrives at school
*new action: Interpreters are available and part of the team approach to welcoming these families to school. The interpreters were trained by Keys, and they are the link to the smooth transition for the newcomers. Families speak Kurdish or Arabic.
*Initially one interpreter was provided by Keys, and after advocating on behalf of members by the Steward, each student received an interpreter as a shadow. This allowed members to explain school in a supportive way to these families.
Follow Up Transition Meeting
*new action: A meeting with the family following the first few days or weeks, at members’ discretions, will be set up by administration during school time, in order to ensure smooth transitions for students and teachers
Letter advocating for more supports
*new action: the administration drafted a letter to the Senior Staff at the board office, advocating for more supports to be put in place.
More Resources
*new action: the school has received 1.5 additional E.A.’s. Initially, one EA was requested by administration.
*new action: the school received increase supports in the form of an ELS itinerant, and based on the increasing need, the board hired a new ELS itinerant for the 2016-2017 school year.
Other Resources
*new action: develop a working bookshelf to support members in resources. Previously people were trying to develop the curricula at night on google.
*new action: apps were purchased in support of the needs of teachers and their learners.
Speak and Translate

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Action alphabet resources to support ELL learners.
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Some examples of the Print Resources Library being built at the school to support teachers.

Community Connections

This link is invaluable. The men and women who work at Keys, and who supporting the new families, have extended their supports to the school site and this partnership is a powerful part of this success. It is also a significant part of the success of the Newcomers. The position of this office is also significant as it is around the corner from the school. The teachers are building a community with community members, and other partnerships.

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Board Support

The board continues to hear the combined power of the message of administration at the school, and the voice of ETFO. A letter drafted post member and administration meetings, created an important part of the support and change. An except is included below:

Dear Senior Staff,
0n behalf of the students and staff…I want to express how proud I am of our staff, our students and our school community for being so welcoming and supportive to the Syrian refugee families who have settled in Kingston and …in the lives of our newest Canadian citizens.
Since October 31st, we have had 21 new students register…. Eighteen of these new registrations are newcomers to Canada from Syria and three students are from out of province schools.
We are formally asking for 1.5 EAs for the remainder of the school year, although two EAs would be ideal, to support the safety of all students, the diverse learning needs and the unexpected enrolment at our site. At this point, we are not sure if this enrolment pattern will continue.
We hope that you are able to consider our request for additional support. Please let us know if there is specific information that you require to assist in your decision. We continue to work hard to make our school a great place to grow and learn for all students. We feel that with an increase in support we can provide the much appreciated and needed education for all of our students and their families.

This successful letter would not have the impact without the support of the local executive, a team-approach and support of the administration, as well as the support from the teachers. The power of advocacy is significant. The evening workshop for teachers turned into a day workshop, presented by ETFO provincial, to members both of ETFO, but also CUPE and administration.

Provincial Support

At the end of the day, the most significant support was felt, when ETFO provincial, with the expertise the members needed to hear said, “Relax, breathe. You are doing a good job. They will be okay.” Teachers cried, laughed, questioned, poked and prodded and in the space of a day, began to be able to relax, and have their burden lifted. They heard stories of empowerment, challenge and how what they are doing is okay. Expertise was offered and presented by provincial ETFO.

We were lucky to have a local executive to advocate for us, and the board and the local split the cost of the professional development, and staff were released, alongside CUPE members, during the day. This, to my knowledge, has not happened before. The collaboration is an amazing success.

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The readily applied strategies and the stories were incredibly empowering by the Provincial ETFO workshop.

Administration at the board level regarding the success of students can be seen in these sentiments, “They feel welcome and safe and have a new life with so many opportunities. Schools and individual teachers have gone above and beyond to welcome the families in and work together to support students. Schools and teachers, with challenges along the way, can be very proud of their teamwork and support to the families. The response back from the families and their support settlement teams is so positive. Students are learning English and are learning what life is like in Canada, specifically Kingston. This is in huge part to the welcoming atmosphere of the school teams.”

This success is because there was work to do, and the Union, both locally and provincially, supported members in a time of new learning and need. There is more work to be done, but members can rest easy, knowing there are so many more supports in place due to their advocacy: and the fact they felt empowered to do so by the local ETFO team, is also a wonderful success.