International students are not alone when they arrive in Ontario. There is a coordinated “team” approach to supporting new international students as soon as they arrive. Everyone works together --- the Homestay family, international education office staff, the school Principal and teaching staff, as well as students from the school and local community partners--- to welcome and assist new international students. The safety, care and well-being of students are of the greatest importance at all times.
Arriving in a new country to attend a new school where everyone is speaking a different language can seem overwhelming at first. Host families have experience in welcoming students and will not only provide a comfortable and safe living environment, but also help new students get to know their new neighbourhood and locate their new school. In addition, the host family will help the new students to get to know about the local transportation systems and answer any questions the student may have.
Most school boards have developed a comprehensive orientation program which introduces international students to what they can expect in their new school, while also providing key information about their new community. Many school boards offer a local bus tour or ask returning international students to make presentations about how they adapted to their new school and Canadian culture.
Shortly after arrival and usually before a new international student starts at a school, there is an appointment to assess language proficiency, and often mathematics skills as well. This assessment will help to place the student into a learning environment suitable to the student’s needs and ability.
It can be intimidating at first, but know that many international students have come before you and had a successful and enjoyable learning experience. Often you will be welcomed by the school Principal and be introduced to some of the school staff. Many schools have developed their own orientation programs and lots of schools have a student “partner” with you to provide you with a tour of the school and let you know where the Library, Cafeteria, and washrooms are, inform you about school routines, and show you your new classrooms.
These student support services are available to all international students in all secondary schools:
One of the most helpful and important people you will work with during your time as an international student is your assigned “Guidance Counsellor.” In some schools the guidance counsellor works exclusively with international students. Guidance counsellors work in the Student Services Office at the school and provide a wide range of assistance to international students, and can help with arranging your subject timetable, communicate with your subject teachers, answer any questions you have about graduation requirements, as well as support you with any emotional or personal challenges you may be facing. Do not hesitate to make an appointment to see your guidance counsellor whenever you have a concern.
Some school boards have staff in the role of Academic Advisor(s) who may be involved in conducting the initial assessment of students upon their arrival as well as assisting international students with academics throughout the school year. Academic Advisors have an in-depth knowledge about ESL programs and help students to select courses best suited to the student’s ability and interests. The Academic Advisors work in cooperation with the Student Services staff and the guidance counsellors.
ESL teachers have special training in order to teach ESL students. These teachers understand the challenges of learning a second language faced by international students. To accommodate the international students:
”Using a variety of instructional, assessment, and evaluation strategies, teachers provide numerous opportunities for students to acquire proficiency in English, as well as subject content knowledge. They provide learners with frequent opportunities to practise and apply new learning and, through regular and varied assessment, give them the specific feedback they need to further develop and refine their skills.”
(The Ontario Curriculum: Secondary/English as a Second Language and English Literacy Development: www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/esl.html, p. 8)
Many teachers offer extra-help sessions at lunchtime or after school to any students who may need assistance. It is important to let your teacher know if you feel you require this extra support; alternatively, your teacher may suggest that you ought to take advantage of extra assistance to support your classroom learning. In some instances, a resource teacher or teacher’s aide may provide additional assistance with “one-to-one” support. In addition, many schools offer peer support programs where students volunteer to help other students to practice conversing in English or tutoring with homework assignments.
Some school boards employ Multicultural Liaison Officers (MLOs) in schools; these staff members speak a number different languages and may be called upon to assist international students, especially with translation and in communicating with either school staff or parents.