Surrey schools brace for rush of refugees

Hundreds of Syrian students anticipated to arrive before end of year.

The Surrey School District anticipates hundreds of new students to enter local schools as refugees arrive from Syria.

The Surrey School District is anticipating 500 or more new students will enter local classrooms as an influx of Syrian refugees come to B.C. in the coming weeks.

Surrey is expected to be the number-one destination for refugees coming to the Metro Vancouver area. About 3,000 are expected by the end of the year, with approximately one-third predicted to reside in Surrey. A large percentage of those are expected to be school-aged children.

School district communications manager Doug Strachan said staff at the district’s Welcome Centre have been examining the logistics of taking in so many new students since shortly after the federal election.

“We’ve been doing the best we can, but it has been difficult without having solid details,” said Strachan.

The Welcome Centre has been around for the past six years and has settlement and multicultural workers who help immigrant and refugee families new to the community and local schools. Staff there assess student needs and assist in setting them up in classrooms with appropriate supports.

“We’re prepared,” said Strachan, “however, we need resources given the volume we expect.”

He said more language and assessment specialists will be necessary. As well, transportation costs could also be an issue as families may not find homes near schools that have space for new students.

“We’re a pretty full school district, but we do have schools that can accommodate more students, so it’s a matter of where the families are located and settled,” Strachan said. “We will ensure that the students can get an education.”

As reported in The Leader last week, there are major school space constraints in three areas of Surrey – Clayton, South Newton and Grandview. Outside those neighbourhoods, there are available classroom spots.

With an overall enrolment of 70,000, bringing in 500 more teens and kids is “something we can manage,” assured Strachan.

Still, it’s by far the largest influx of refugees the Surrey School District has had to manage. In the past – such as when refugees were fleeing Burma’s civil war about seven years ago – the district welcomed maybe 60 to 80 at one time.

“Some of this will have to play out,” said Strachan when asked if more teachers would be required. “Our main focus right now is getting them settled and into the schools.”

He said school district officials will be meeting with numerous agencies and government representatives next week to get further details and solidify plans.

Motivating school district staff during what could prove a challenging transition, he said, are the success stories of the many refugee families and students who have made their way through Surrey schools.

“What they’ve lived through is just incredible and you see them blossom athletically, academically, and really contribute.”

Enrolment jump already higher than expected

 

Apart from the influx of refugees, nearly four times the number of expected new students flowed into Surrey schools this fall.

While the district predicted overall enrolment to rise by about 250 students this year over last, 950 new children and teens showed up.

Most of the new students are at the elementary level.

 

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