Works to keep its ‘Safe School’ title
By Gord Bowes, News staff
Going to a new school can be intimidating. Going to a new school in a new country is even more intimidating.
Students at St. Jean de Brebeuf say they don’t want anyone to feel that way and are taking action to ensure that.
“We want to be able to let them know, ‘You know what, this is your school, too, and we want to help you as much as possible so that you feel comfortable and feel like you belong,’ ” said Kathy Hoang.
The Grade 12 student at Brebeuf was one of the organizers of a recent presentation by the school’s diversity committee and mental health action team. The theme was “Creating a caring community.”
Brebeuf was one of 10 schools to receive an Ontario Safe School Award last year. One of the reasons it earned the award was the school’s partnership with Settlement Workers in Schools to help newcomer students and families register for school and become acclimatized.
“We want to continue that,” said Hoang.
“We want to eliminate any chance of having a problem.”
Jenny Martinez, the lead worker at the school from YMCA Immigrant Settlement Services, told her own story to the students.
Her family fled civil war in Nicaragua during the mid-1980s, leaving behind everything they had. After some time as refugees in Guatemala, they were connected with a church in Simcoe, Ont.
Martinez related how different it is for a family arriving in a new country, in their case Canada in winter. They unknowingly got off the plane in T-shirts and shorts only to see everyone in their winter wear.
“They had big, fluffy coats and hats … my mom thought it was a traditional way Canadians dressed,” said Martinez.
Coming to Canada was difficult and it continues to be difficult for her parents, she said.
“Not only because of the culture shock, but because it wasn’t a choice for us to come.”
Martinez said she was the only Spanish speaking student in her school. Thankfully, a custodian at the school did speak Spanish.
“I couldn’t understand a single word of English,” she said.
She recalled celebrating Halloween on the wrong day — back home there was no such occasion — and getting on the wrong bus home because she couldn’t understand which one to get on.
But, she said, she made long-lasting friends with some understanding students.
“They stuck up for me when others made fun of me because of the way I looked or because of the way that I spoke,” said Martinez.
She said her friends taught her to embrace her culture and know that she is unique. She said she wouldn’t change that and advised students to appreciate that in their fellow students.
“Each and every one of them has a world of knowledge and diversity to share with everyone here at this school,” Martinez said.
Teacher Stefanie Delgobbo, said promoting individuality and mental health at St. Jean de Brebeuf is a priority. That’s why they hold annual assemblies to further make that point.
“We’ve been doing a lot in the last few years to make sure everyone feels welcome here, so they feel they have a place where they can actually come to if they have any problems or to talk about their insecurities,” she said.