Population growth in the Central Okanagan is leading to an increasingly diverse community, which has been made apparent in local schools.
“We’ve seen a steady stream of new immigrants in this area,” said Rick Oliver, assistant superintendent for the Central Okanagan School District. “There’s not huge numbers, but they’re from all over the world.”
At last count the school district saw students from 56 different countries go through their welcome centre.
“Kelowna and area is getting a bit better known and becoming a more attractive place to settle,” he said.
One notable addition to the cultural mosaic of area schools is the new Syrian population.
At last count the district had 44 refugee students in area schools.
Oliver explained the district works with KCR and Interior Health to support both the new students and their families. The district has also hired two settlement workers to assist with the new students’s transition to Canadian life, and those positions are funded through a grant from the federal government.
All in all, the transition is going well.
“It’s been amazing,” said Oliver. “Talking to the schools and seeing how the kids have adapted and adjusted is just incredible. We as a community still have work to do as supporting the families, but in school the kids are really well supported.”
Oliver said he’s heard countless “uplifting stories” about how Canadian born students are starting to connect and learning about other cultures.
“From my perspective it’s great for domestic kids to interact with other children and learn more about the world,” he said.
Syrian English Language Learners still awaiting funding
Funding to help adult Syrians pick up the English language skills needed for self sufficiency has yet to come through.
The Ki-Low-Na Friendship Centre has offered English classes for newcomers since 2003—first under the English Language Services for Adults program and for the last three years through the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada program.
Federal funding Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for LINC English classes has been ongoing, but it hasn’t grown in the last year to match the need presented by the new refugee population.
“We run four multilevel classes from September to June for a total of approximately 60 students at any given time. We provide one class during July and August for 15 students. The student demand is higher, but that’s all we can do under current funding levels,” said Cam Martin Administration Team Leader/LINC Program Manager Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society
“Meeting that demand is impossible under our current level of funding.
We requested additional funding in February. So far that hasn’t arrived. We’ve been told that all the extra funding to support refugee settlement and language training was directed to lower mainland programs initially.”
The organization task been told that addressing the need for extra classes in Kelowna is a top priority, but so far the additional funding still hasn’t arrived.