This summer is an exciting time for IRCOM’s Newcomer Literacy Initiative (NLI). For the first time, IRCOM is able to offer classes to its NLI students during the summer months. Thanks to funding from multiple sources and the space offered by Red River College’s downtown campus, IRCOM will be running two classes every weekday morning. Sticking with IRCOM’s commitment to make programming accessible, childcare will also be offered so that parents whose children are home from school will be able to attend with them.
Manuel Zuniga, the NLI Program Assistant, has also been a teacher for Red River’s pre-existing summer EAL classes, but he comments that he never sees IRCOM students there. “The criteria are different for Red River’s summer classes,” he says, explaining that they are mostly geared towards people who arrive in Canada within 2-3 months prior to classes beginning. “But IRCOM students need to practice! They always forget their English during the summer months.”
Dorota Blumczynska, now IRCOM’s Executive Director, began working with NLI as a volunteer in the very first class of fall 2007. The program had one classroom and it was a busy one, supported by Neighbourhoods Alive!. At least 30 students were part of the class, and their children were welcomed right into the room, where they were watched by a couple childminders. The children were separated from their parents by only a couple couches.
“The kids often screamed, and we would have to stop teaching. It definitely interrupted the learning process,” Blumczynska recalls. “But it was also a great sense of community, and it was good for the children to see their mothers learning.”
The atmosphere underwent a big shift in January of 2008 when the Government of Manitoba recognized the program’s potential with a grant. The money allowed the class to split in two and incorporated much needed prep time into the teachers’ schedules. Supplies, childminding and snacks were also covered.
“The additional funding for summer classes is well deserved and long overdue,” comments Blumczynska. “NLI is an example to EAL classes because we successfully partner with schools to create learning hubs. The children who come with their mothers are more ready for preschool and kindergarten, and teachers have commented on this.”
The importance of summer classes cannot be overestimated. The summer gap is a source of stress for students as they worry about how much they will forget as they spend the months in their homes speaking their first languages with their families. Not only so, but as new arrivals only receive Resettlement Assistance for one year, the need to maximize this year is keenly felt. To lose two or three months of learning time can be devastating.
“I am happy and proud of those who pursued this funding,” Blumczynska says, speaking now in her role as ED. “I’m also thrilled for the students. I have no doubt that this will be a valuable learning time.”