Young refugees offered pop-up classes while awaiting homes | Toronto Star

Good initiative:

A string of pop-up classrooms arranged to give young refugees a taste of school while they wait for new homes delighted Syrian families Monday at the west-end Toronto Plaza Hotel.

“A-B-C! — happy!” said a beaming 12-year-old Dalaa al Sarji, who, like most Syrian refugee children arriving in Canada, hadn’t been in a classroom in more than two years.

She and her six siblings — from 3-year-old Hussein to 14-year-old twin brothers — were among some 75 children living temporarily at the Plaza who hopped on school buses Monday in an unusual pilot project to give these uprooted children a feel for the routine of school in satellite classrooms, while they wait to find out where their new homes, and permanent schools, will be.

Hussein al Sarji, 3, is the baby of the family.

LUCAS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR

Hussein al Sarji, 3, is the baby of the family.

“We did reading — and the teacher was so pretty,” reported brother Said through an interpreter. Noted 14-year-old Ahmad: “I like school in Canada so much; everyone makes us welcome.”

Concerned that housing delays were leaving refugee children with no way to start integrating into Canada — the average hotel stay has been about four weeks — Toronto’s public and Catholic school boards scrambled together last week to find empty classrooms and hire supply teachers and Arabic interpreters to run two-hour morning classes for children while they’re living at the hotel. The costs, including buses, will be covered by the province’s newcomer program.

Walaa al Sarji, 6, can’t wait to play football and hockey in school.

“It’s the right thing to do; you can’t promise people a new life and not prepare them for getting an education,” said Karen Falconer, the Toronto District School Board’s executive superintendent of Continuing and International Education.

Some 265 refugee children are living at the hotel at the moment. Only 75 took part in the morning programs Monday, although twice as many have signed up for Tuesday.

Ahmad al Sarji, 14, feels more welcome here compared to the school experiece in Lebanon.

“I understand why many of these parents aren’t comfortable at first with the idea of putting their kids on a school bus and letting them go,” said Falconer. “We have to build trust.”

Source: Young refugees offered pop-up classes while awaiting homes | Toronto Star