NEW GLASGOW – Excitement and chatter filled Trinity United Church last week as newcomers to Pictou County graduated from an intensive six-week English as an Additional Language course.
The students, numbering in close to 30, consisted of three Syrian families as well as two Indian families; ages ranged from small children to adults.
“It’s been amazing,” said Lacey Morell-Pierre, a teacher in the public school system and EAL teacher for this program.
Morrell-Pierre said this summer was a wonderful experience for her.
“It was my dream job because I love to learn new languages, work with others and work with teens.”
She taught the class of teenagers, preparing them for the upcoming school year and, although she says it was her first time teaching EAL, she was confident she could succeed with these teens as she has learned two languages as an adult.
What Morrell-Pierre didn’t realize was the strong connection she would feel with the youth and how it would impact her.
“I would love to be able to continue working with them. We laughed every single day. I was concerned at first they wouldn’t get my humour, but the reality is laughter and humour cross all languages. I’m just so proud of them. They were so open to learning. Being a teen is hard enough but to come from a war zone and have to learn a new language …”
Nanda Shirke, Multicultural Association of Pictou County, noted how impressive it is that so many people came together to make this happen.
“It’s quite amazing,” she noted.
Rania Al Metheb was so inspired she prepared a speech for the graduation ceremony.
“We used to live in a refugee camp in very bad conditions … Thanks a lot for everything. Thank you to everyone who helped us reach our goal to get out … We wish to learn quickly so we can communicate with you. We are very happy because we are here and our family are the people of New Glasgow and Canada.”
Manar Al Metheb, 13, and Suhair Al Metheb, 19, were in Morrell-Pierre’s class and feel like they are more prepared to enter the school system this year.
Manar said, “My English is better now … I’m excited to go to school.”
Suhair was a bit more hesitant. “In two years my English will be good,” she said, adding she is a little nervous about entering Grade 12 but feels more comfortable with the language.
Both say they will miss Morrell-Pierre greatly after having spent the summer together.
“It was so much fun this summer,” said Manar who wants to become a pediatrician.
Suhair has dreams of teaching English one day.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Sarah MacIntosh-Wiseman of Safe Harbour. “They have worked so hard over the past six weeks and before that. They have made so much progress.”
The course was funded by the Sobeys Foundation, however, Safe Harbour was able to partner with Nova Scotia Immigration to reduce the curriculum costs and are hoping to continue English classes for the newcomers.
MacIntosh-Wiseman says the program also provided an independent space for the youth, away from their parents and the small children, where they could learn and have a bit of freedom.
She says the plan continues to be working on English as well as getting the adults assessed in order to get a sense of their skills and abilities.
“For example, Bassam (Al Metheb) is like a machinist so once we get him assessed we can see what skills he has and how they will translate in terms of certification that may be required.”
She also notes this whole venture has brought the community together in ways it had never been before.
“There are so many people already living in the community that have come out to help, like the Multicultural Association of Pictou County and the Arabic speakers in the community who have helped us translate. A lot of new friends and resources were made so this was a very positive project for everyone involved.”
She says initially going through the process, these families were just names on a piece of paper, but now they are part of the community, they are friends.
“Their focus, as they have told me, is to learn English as quickly as they can because they don’t want to disappoint. They want to be a positive part of the community.”
From the left: Manar Al Metheb, Lacey Morrell-Pierre, Suhair Al Metheb and Shahed Al Metheb pose with their certificates and their favourite teacher, Morrell-Pierre, after completing a six-week intensive English program. (Harvie photo)