Immigrant and refugee youth want their hours spent in English language learning courses to count toward high school graduation credits. They’ve launched an online petition to try to persuade the Ministry of Education to recognize their hard work.
“We wanted to create a dialogue among people who might not be aware of the issue,” said Diego Cardona, a Grade 12 student at Sir Winston Churchill secondary.
Crediting English language learning is one of 16 recommendations included in a report called Fresh Voices from Long Journeys: Insights of Immigrant and Refugee Youth, sponsored by the Vancouver Foundation and B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth.
“We’re not asking that we are exempted from English 12 or Socials 11,” said Cardona, a member of the Fresh Voices youth advisory team that produced the report.
Students want credit for the courses and they want to graduate on time. They don’t want to have to enrol in adult education, which Cardona says dissuades some students from furthering their education.
The youth want better representation on the government bodies of school districts, parent advisory committees and student councils.
Cardona said David Thompson secondary reserves a spot on its student council for an elected English language learning student. This representative could be in constant conversation with the school’s parent advisory council and schools could host annual consultations with parents of diverse backgrounds, he said.
Fresh Voices recommends that anti-oppression, anti-racism and cultural awareness training be provided to teachers and school staff.
Cardona, who came to Canada as a refugee from Colombia in 2005 and attended John Henderson elementary in the Sunset neighbourhood starting at age 11, says his time there was challenging because he felt stereotyped by students and teachers.
“My peers couldn’t support me because, first of all, we couldn’t communicate with each other because I didn’t speak English and there was barely any Spanish speakers at my school, [just] my sister, probably,” Cardona said. “If a lot of the mechanisms we’re asking for were in place when I came to Canada, it would have been a lot more easy to integrate and to participate completely in the school community.”
William Wong, district principal for student placement and English language learning services, says the youth advisory team may not be aware of the limited number of credits needed to graduate. Students need 48 required and 12 other credits, or seven courses, to graduate. They must complete English 10, 11 and 12, among other courses.
Wong tells newcomer parents graduating on time may not be the best goal. In some countries, students have only one chance to enter university and the school they hail from is ranked. Wong tells parents students can enter university later and they need strong English skills first.
He also suggests students go to college and then transfer to university or complete a certificate program that’s likely to secure them a well-paid job.
“When the kids are saying they want the credit courses, they may be missing the big picture,” Wong said.
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