Summer Program For Young Newcomers In Durham

Group Teachers Mariana Spena, Jana Srajeldin, Sejal Gajjar with students

Learning Is Mostly Play-Based And Intitiative Has Shown That Student Outcomes Are Better

It was Cultural Exploration Day at summer school and 11-year-old Samer from Palestine proudly described the traditional clothing he wass wearing. Samer is one of 100 kids attending a 4-week summer learning program launched by the Durham District School Board for newcomers to Canada and English language learners.

When schools, families and communities work together, student outcomes are better and this is what DDSB is focusing on through this new initiative.

Classroom Teacher Sejal Gajjar, Jana Srajeldin making Ethiopian bread with students

“The focus of the program is to develop better language skills as well as community involvement and engagement” says Erin Elmhurst, the DDSB Educational Officer for English as a Second Language and English Literacy Development. This summer initiative is unique as it is the first of its kind “we recognize there is a need to support our newcomer students with language development so that when they return to school in the fall, the skill gap is closed, they are better prepared and they can show who they are and really engage in learning fully” says Elmhurst.

Sejal Gajjar and Mariana Spena are classroom teachers for level A students who have entered the program with the least amount of English and literacy skills. “Since we have many beginner level students, the language acquisition strategies we use are more hands on” says Gajjar “we have our students practicing sight words through letter beading, stamps and playdough.

“:We also do guided reading and regular assessments to asses the students learning and we modify our lessons based on this information. We always have the success of our students in mind.”

DDSB student on Cultural Exploration Day

A lot of the learning in this room is play based “anything that kids think is a game and don’t realize that they are learning has been really beneficial for our students” says Spena “they pick up on it really quickly. We have board games that teach basic numeracy such as adding and subtraction.”

Jana Srajeldin is a high school student assisting in the level A room. She is fluent in Arabic and French and has really bonded with Arabic and French speaking students in the program.

Elmhurst explains how parent engagement is a large focus of the program as well “we have a program called Welcome Wednesday where parents are encouraged to come in all day long and participate in any part of the learning they’d like to engage in. They are also invited to our community events on days we go to the library, movies or bowling so it becomes a family experience. There are also weekly newsletters that go home at the end of the week sharing what the students are doing throughout the day and to remind them about Welcome Wednesdays”

Elmhurst is hoping this will be an annual program “I hope it’s an annual program, it’s extremely beneficial and the students absolutely love it. We’re going to measure our impact by looking at pre-imposed assessments and seeing the impact it had on students and then we look at if funding is available as well.”