Getting newcomer teenagers together in Multicultural Club at a middle school helps them build community and their sense of belonging.
Last year, ICA’s Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) program began working with Jennifer Nixon, English language teacher, and Sandra Salvati, Vice Principal, at Spencer Middle School on a new Multicultural Club program for newcomer students.
Most teenagers with different backgrounds, languages, cultures, and beliefs are happy to become part of this beautiful country but the can feel anxious about fitting into Canadian culture. Some struggle with worries about friends, social interaction, school and their future, and many miss their friends, families, and food for their homeland.
With the Multicultural Club, we focused on activities to help students work through some of these stresses and worries. To encourage cultural integration, we created a time during school where they had the opportunity to talk about their own culture, hear about other students’ backgrounds, and meet others who are trying to fit in a new country. We wanted students to know that their cultures are appreciated, and that they don’t need to forget about their identity to feel they belong. Inviting some Canadian-born kids to participate in the activities made the culture sharing and integrating more meaningful.
It takes some effort to create a safe talking environment for students 12 to 14 years old when English is not their first language. Some spoke very little English and yet, we discovered they loved to talk about their countries.
By coming together in this program, we learned that people in the Philippines and Mexico use the same word for party: “Fiesta.” We learned about amazing Korean pop music groups and about the music that is played in Afghanistan. We laughed together and tried to learn words in Greek, Vietnamese, Korean, Persian, Spanish, and Tigrinya. Everyone had so much fun!
The Multicultural Club at Spencer Middle school has brought so much joy and the SWIS team is looking forward to our sessions in 2020 where we will have discussions about food and will continue working together on our art project.
These moments together allow us all to remember that cultural integration is not about everyone being the same. It’s all about learning about our differences and celebrating diversity and living in harmony together.