Newcomer students succeed despite COVID school year

By Ghada Tallia, Manager of SWIS (Settlement Workers in School) program


Summer is almost here and there’s only a week left of school and online classes.

I think everyone is looking forward to the break! This is especially true for children and families who are newcomers to Canada. They have faced the double challenge of adapting to a new country and school system, while dealing with COVID-19.

MOSAIC’s Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) program helps newcomer students and their families adapt and integrate to Canadian life and education during their initial years in Canada.

We have four settlement workers helping newcomer families and their children who are registered at any of the 12 schools in the City of New Westminster. Normally, our settlement workers run workshops, act as liaisons and provide help and information that supports a smooth transition to the Canadian school environment.

When COVID-19 hit in March, everything changed.

We had to figure out how to help 71 families and more than 113 kids – and fast!

Initially students and parents were stressed. We had to reassure them that we would help. A few families didn’t have access to electronic devices, but we were able to arrange to provide devices for online learning.

The delivery of messages and services was a big challenge at first — a huge change to our workstyle. We also had to guide parents, literally one-by-one, so they could remotely connect their children to school and their classes.

Building trust became key.

Because a relationship was created with the families prior to remote learning, they know we are here to help. The families trust the SWIS workers due to both a common language and common immigrant experience.

One parent wrote, “You are a rose, thank you for supporting me and my kids during this time and always, we are grateful!” — translated from Arabic language which means you are a beautiful person with a good heart.

Another parent wrote: “It was difficult at the beginning because my kids didn’t have a computer at home, but the SWIS worker helped us with online application to have Chromebooks for my kids and helped my kids to download the programs like (Microsoft Teams). After that she explained how to use it. Also, she communicated with the teachers to help me understand what my kids are doing.”

We’re so grateful for the many positive comments and feedback we’ve received.

The District Associate Superintendent, Maryam N, wrote: “Thank you for the support the SWIS team has been providing the district in these challenging times…. [and] your incredible willingness to provide information and respond to the District’s needs quickly – all with an amazing attitude.”

Another school staffer wrote: “During this Covid-19 pandemic, without your help, our families would not have been able to get connected with the necessary resources and technology plus the important paperwork/documents required to receive such devices. Your translating was necessary for determining which families were in financial crisis i.e. food, clothing, technology. You were a tremendous help with the countless translating needed for parents to navigate MS Teams using a Chromebook.”

While it’s been very stressful, I am grateful to have a positive team who is willing to work hard and have happy families and students!

It is indeed going to be a well-deserved summer break for everyone. Happy school break and summer holidays!


Pictured: Sepideh Srory and her children who are now able to study online

MOSAIC is one of Canada’s largest settlement and employment agencies helping immigrants, refugees and newcomers. MOSAIC enriches communities through services and advocacy, furthering the success and sense of belonging of newcomers and individuals from diverse backgrounds. Learn more at mosaicbc.org/about.