Adjusting to life in Langley a challenge for Syrian families

Planes flying overhead, fire drills and camouflage clothing are creating unexpected stress for refugee students

Syrian refugees are adjusting to life in Langley

Fire drills, camouflage clothing — even something as simple as an umbrella — can be terrifying to a person who has lived in a war zone.

That’s something Langley School District officials have learned since March, when 73 Syrian refugees began arriving in the community, with more expected in the coming months.

The influx has been spurred by a lack of affordable housing in the cities where they originally settled — Burnaby, Coquitlam and Surrey.

Langley was not identified as a primary site for the settlement of Syrian refugees, however, since March, the school district has seen 13 families come into the system, said Karen Beatty, District vice-principal responsible for English language learners and settlement workers in schools.

At its request, Beatty provided the board with an update on how refugee students are doing since moving here.

Langley School District has been given temporary funding to hire two Arabic speaking settlement workers and a program will be put in place to support newly arrived youth through the month of July.

To date, families have settled in the Parkside, James Kennedy and Douglas Park elementary areas, said Beatty. In Langley City, several families have settled into the Kinsmen complex.

The District is providing a reception class at Douglas Park with a teacher for students grades K to 5 and an additional teacher for a reception class at HD Stafford Middle School  for students Grades 6 to 8.

Additional support has been put in place in the Aldergrove region. Other new immigrants continue to move to Langley, with children who also require ELL support, said Beatty.

“Syrian refugees are coming in large families with many school aged children and soon to be school-aged children,” she said.

“Langley was never meant to be a place for refugees, but when there is so little affordable housing available they are coming here,” she said.

Registration and placement of the students is still in progress.

“Some students are coming to us and their education has been interrupted for up to five years. Some have never been in school,” said Beatty.

Many have come from a refugee camp in Jordan.

“In the first year of resettlement, there is a lot of stress and a lot of change.”

Things are very different in Langley, compared to Syria, she explained.

Some children previously attended schools that were not co-ed, and so some parents are having difficulty adjusting to a school system that teaches boys and girls together.

The schools also have to be cognizant of other cultural differences, Beatty said.

“Just as they are learning about life in Canada, we are learning interesting things about our new refugees, that include some cultural differences. They do not eat pork — only eat halal meat — and some children are fasting for the month of Ramadan (June),” she said.

Halal meat comes from animals that have been slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law.

“One child has requested a quiet spot to pray, that was easily accommodated by the school,” said Beatty.

Individuals and families that come as refugees have overcome obstacles and adversity in their journey and will undoubtedly require some assistance to successfully integrate into life in Canada, said Beatty.

The families arriving in Langley have come from different parts of Syria, and it appears that their wish to get on with life is a motivating factor at this time, she said.

But she is also aware that they have faced trauma and there are certain things that will trigger stress that schools need to be aware of.

“Some students at Douglas Park, hearing airplanes overhead makes them uneasy for obvious reasons,” Beatty told the trustees.

Langley school district receives funding for settlement workers through the Immigrant Refugee and Citizenship Canada.

Immigrant Services Society (ISS) estimates B.C. will receive another 1,300 Syrian government-assisted refugees and 458 non-Syrian government-assisted refugees before Dec. 31.