Justin Yang wants his 13year-old son Bob to do well in school. But Bob, who may attend Prince of Wales secondary in September, and his father are recent immigrants from China with little knowledge of their new city.
That's why they joined hundreds of newcomers to Canada Monday to cram into stuffy classrooms at John Oliver secondary to munch on sandwiches while settlement workers who work in Vancouver schools prepared them for bus tours of the city's neighbourhoods. It's the first year the Vancouver school district's reception and placement centre offered the tours as part of its orientation for new immigrant and refugee parents and students keen to understand the city's school system and culture. "I want to know what the education system is about. I want to know how we can [prepare] for his good education," said Yang.
His son has only been in town for a month and Yang returns to China for the month of September. "Because his mother, her English is not well, I am worried about him," Yang said. The Yangs were two of the nearly 600 newcomer caregivers and students who attended the annual orientation, which for the past five years has offered advice at the start of the school year to immigrant and refugee families.
Schools are one of the few institutions with which newcomer families with school-aged children have continuous contact, noted Jerry Wu, manager of settlement workers in schools.
"So, I'm sorry to say, they become a captive audience," Wu said with a laugh. "It's good for them, it's good for the school so we be able to help the family getting more information, more empowered so in the process of adjusting and settling in the new country and new schools faster, better. Once they're able to do that, then they have the power to support the children to focus on learning in schools, so that achieves two goals."
Adults and teens filed down narrow aisles of 14 orange school buses to tour the area of the city in which they live. Sites they saw included walk-in clinics, libraries, community centres and neighbourhood houses.
Settlement workers on the buses gave them a running tour in Mandarin, the first language of nearly half of the participants, Cantonese, Filipino/Tagalog, Vietnamese, Punjabi, Spanish and English.
Workers who speak languages that include Arabic, Russian and Hindi also attended the orientation.
The school board sees registrants from at least 30 countries throughout the school year, according to Wu. The participants learned about English as a second language programs in schools, school system myths and facts and ways parents can help students succeed before the bus tour.
Twenty-four students who had immigrated within the last three years and trained to be peer mentors were to lead students in a second day of orientation activities that included how to use a locker and pack a lunch, selecting courses, school culture and pressures and how to deal with them.
"Also we can't avoid that there is bullying in the schools and there is some racism in the schools, how you can recognize that, how you deal with that and how you can build an alliance to help yourself," Wu said.
Students meet peer mentors from their prospective school or one that's close by on the third day of orientation.