Program helps Ukrainian children adjust to Calgary school system

It started out as a way to help children evacuated from Ukraine get ready for school in Alberta this fall, but in the end, it’s clearly become much more.

Friday marks the graduation for dozens of students from the Ukrainian Ready to Study summer school, which taught Ukrainian children who came to Calgary as refugees earlier this year.

Kathy Sushko, who hosts a mother and daughter from Ukraine, says the daughter, Maria, has attended summer camp for the past three weeks.

“100%, without a doubt this program has given Maria a new understanding of the curriculum of school procedures and (prepares her) for school. She’s excited,” Sushko said.

“She finds comfort in being here with her peers. She’s created a social network of friends, and I’ve seen that progress since they’ve been here. Programs like these provide the social socialization they need and connection with people they can relate to.

The facility is the brainchild of Anastasiia Stepanchuk, neuroscientist and PhD candidate at the University of Calgary.

Stepanchuk came to Calgary from Ukraine four years ago to study. When Russia invaded Ukraine, her mother and 12- and 15-year-old brothers arrived in Calgary as evacuees.

“I realized that I would need to hire tutors so maybe they could help them adjust to the school system to learn English better throughout the summer. Then they came here and they started to feel a bit isolated. I realized that a lot of kids might face the same problem when arriving in Calgary,” Stepanchuk said.

“So I thought, ‘Why not do both things at once?’ Brush up on English, brush up on some subjects, and get the kids to meet and make new friends in Calgary.

Teachers from the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District, along with community volunteers, are helping students prepare for the upcoming school year. Jennifer Doty, who retired this year from teaching math, is one of them.

“For me, it was about trying to adapt my lesson so that everyone could understand and participate. We usually start with a little vocabulary and translate it into Ukrainian. And then we train with the math skills,” Doty said.

“They were excellent students – in fact, very caring and engaged. I really hope what we have done here has helped them prepare for the fall, so that they have a good start in Canadian schools.

Besides the language barrier, adapting to a new school system, new testing methods and a new curriculum is a big change for students.

“I discovered the scoring system. It’s very different for Ukraine,” said Albina Bilecka, who is in high school.

“It’s not harder or easier, it just radically differs from the Ukrainian (system).”

Bilecka was also surprised at the number of other Ukrainian students in Calgary.

“I expected a lot fewer people from Ukraine, and I was very surprised to see so many children in the camp.”

After morning classes, which take place at St. Alphonsus School, students head to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church for lunch, crafts and games.

The nearby Ukrainian Pioneer Park is turned into a football pitch, and the basement of the church often hosts pop-up karaoke. There are also additional popular STEM courses for students who wish to continue studying throughout the day.

Now that the session is over, each student will receive a backpack full of the school supplies they will need as the fall semester approaches, but more importantly, they will come away with new confidence and new friendships as they he’s heading to school in September.

The Calgary Board of Education operates a drop-in center for non-Canadian students. Since April 22, it has registered 588 Ukrainian students

Assessing teachers work with students to determine their language skills and once they enter school, students are offered additional support including translators, strategists, specialists, psychologists and other mental health supports.

The Calgary Catholic School District runs a similar program through its St. John Welcome Center, which provides students and families with enrollment support, as well as access to district-trained interpreters. . It also offers outerwear and backpacks full of school supplies, gift cards for at-home needs, and access for settlement workers.

He adds that he has registered more than 130 Ukrainian students for the new school year.

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