By Laura Churchill Duke (’98)
This summer, more than 30 volunteers will gather on the Acadia campus to help newcomer families learn English.
The aim is to work with local sponsoring groups and community volunteers to provide language-learning and life skills programs to help newcomers of all ages adjust to Canadian life, says Sharon Churchill Roe (’99), manager of English Language Programs through Open Acadia.
The Annapolis Valley has just become home to several refugee families from Africa and the Middle East. Churchill Roe says that sponsoring groups have been working hard to prepare for their arrivals and to help them settle in. Some early-arriving families received language instruction through community-funded programs, however, this language instruction is not available during the summer. Acadia’s English language program arose based on a gap in services.
“When I learned of this break in instruction,” says Churchill Roe, “I wondered if Acadia could fill this vital need.”
She approached Jeff Banks, director of Open Acadia and Acting Registrar, with a proposal for a summer program for adults and children. He liked the idea from the beginning and quickly garnered the support of University President Ray Ivany.
The rest fell into place, with Acadia providing not only the classroom space, but also trained language teachers for the adult and high school English classes.
“We have dozens of volunteers lined up to drive participants to and from classes; current and retired school teachers volunteering to teach the children for a week at a time; community members helping out with youth and adult programming; and countless donations of supplies, toys and books,” says Churchill Roe.
Alumna Jan (Zwicker) Zettler (’98) is volunteering this summer with her children Claire (12) and Drew (nine). Currently a teacher in the Annapolis Valley, Zettler wanted to volunteer both to have this shared experience with her children and to help others.
“I teach English and French so this experience will help me be a better teacher by focusing on how to build language and become creative in my teaching style because I don't speak the languages of the children who will be attending the class,” Zettler says. She is also hoping her children will see how the gift of time can have a big impact.
“In a world where we seem to spend so much time racing around, this will be a great chance for my children to stop and see how lucky they are,” Zettler adds.
Current Nutrition and Dietetics student Alah Shakshuki (‘18) is another volunteer with the English program who is helping with the preschool and children’s classes. She got involved because she wanted to help these families adjust as quickly as possible to the local environment.
“It’s important to me to help the members of our community,” Shakshuki says. “I always enjoy working with children, so this is a great opportunity for me.”
Churchill Roe is thrilled by the amount of support they have received from Acadia and the community.
“What better way to let our new friends know that we are thrilled to have them become part of our community?” Banks says.
Open Acadia sees this language program as a positive for both sides. If they can make new community members feel welcome, perhaps they will then share their life experiences through Open Acadia in one of the Acadia Lifelong Learning programs, Banks says.
“This program has come together very quickly,” says Churchill Roe, “and the whole Acadia community has been behind it every step of the way.” Classes run until August 18. Kids’ classes start June 30.
Anyone interested in learning more, helping out, or donating supplies can contact Sharon at: Sharon.firstname.lastname@example.org.