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Supporting French-speaking newcomer high school students throughout the school integration process


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By Anusha Kassan (she/her), associate professor, Vancouver; Gayatri Kainth (she/her), registered psychologist, Calgary; and Tonje Molyneux (she/her), Ph.D. candidate, Vancouver

 

Being a bilingual nation with two official languages (French and English), Canada selects a portion of its newcomers (i.e., immigrants, refugees, and international students) from countries where French is a main language. Following immigration, many newcomer families opt to enroll their children in French education.(1) Schools therefore become the primary point of contact for cultural immersion and integration for students and their families,(2) and for the sustainability of the French language in Canada.

 

Our research aimed to better understand the process of school integration for newcomer youth transitioning into a French public school in British Columbia following immigration to Canada. According to Kassan and Mukred (3), this phenomenon captures the adjustment of newcomer youth inside and outside the school system, including, but not limited to, lang-uage learning, academic performance, classroom behaviour, social networking, identity negotiation, emotional and familial well-being, involvement in school life, and under-standing of the educational system. Results of our qualitative research (4) highlighted three significant barriers to integration:

 

1. Navigating school differences and integration challenges

One of the challenges identified in our study pertained to language learning. The use of French in academic settings and the use of English in social and community settings was said to be confusing. Further, adjusting to school system differences like physical features and tools was tricky. The method of transportation to school was also different for them, as they often had long commutes to the nearest French-language school. Another challenge entailed ways of finding and seeking support throughout the process of school integration. To ease the transition into the new setting, newcomer students often relied on classmates from similar backgrounds (e.g., shared language and/or immigration status). Such supports allowed them to remain connected to their cultural and linguistic practices and identities. In some cases, they needed support finding work, medical assistance, and cultural spaces where they could meet people with similar lived experiences.

 

2. Negotiating multiple and intersecting identities

Newcomer students were put in a position to navigate many cultural differences once they arrived in Canada. Specifically, they were surprised by the ethnic and cultural diversity within their schools. Further, they remarked on the presence of friendliness and regular greetings among students and staff in the school setting. Students’ growing awareness of Canada’s history of colonialism and the experiences of Indigenous Peoples prompted them to reject the idea of being called a Canadian. At the same time, they felt less connected with their French identity and culture. The only connection that linked them to their culture/country of origin was that of language. These factors contributed to growth, change, and an emerging new identity in Canada.

 

3. Coping with biases on a daily basis

Students appreciated bringing their own attitudes, ways of thinking, and life experiences into their new school setting. Simultaneously, they faced racism and discrimination on many fronts, including, but not limited to, their skin colour, religion, newcomer status, as well as speaking French as an additional language. These experiences were marked by microaggressions, teasing, and bullying, which directly affected their mental health and well-being.

 

Our findings point to critical experiences of school integration among French-speaking newcomer youth, which can inform the work of educators and decision-makers. The following recommendations can enhance the experiences of French-speaking newcomer students in schools.

 

1. Changing the way we relate to newcomer youth by expanding cultural awareness

Increased cultural awareness among students and staff could help change the perception of majority (English) and minority (French) languages in Canada, in turn affecting newcomers’ experiences of school integration. This shift can be achieved by considering French students’ pluralistic background and intersecting experiences, working to integrate them into the general school culture and reduce potential isolation.(5) For example, teachers can introduce students to a more diverse history and conception of French and the French language. This could involve reframing bilingualism and pluralism as a strength rather than a deficit. Teachers are also able to facilitate identity development by designing classroom activities that prompt students to think about culture, language, and other facets of identity.

 

2. Embracing collective responsibility as school staff

Given that schools represent the first point of contact for newcomer youth,(6) school staffs have a cultural and social responsibility to create welcoming and engaging spaces for students. Newcomer students may not reach out for support because of language barriers, prejudice, and discrimination. Thus, direct engagement from the school staff and students can be helpful in fostering positive connections and preparing a welcoming ambience. The easiest way to accomplish such a task is to initiate conversations with newcomer students directly and provide them with open invitations to ask questions or seek support at any time. The use of arts-based methods to create safe spaces and environments within the school can also be helpful. Some examples include artistic clubs, peer-support groups, and homework assistance. According to Prasad (7), arranging performances for varied audiences can contribute to reproducing and preserving both French language and culture. Intercultural education may also be fostered by celebrating cultural holidays. (8)

 

3. Appreciating the value of French-language settlement services in schools

By providing settlement services, schools can play a pivotal role in addressing the needs of newcomer students and their families as well as fostering a sense of community and belonging.

 

In this way, teachers may need to advocate alongside newcomer students and their families to ensure adequate, tailored resources and supports within the school. Further, equipping administrators with the skills needed to enhance cultural representation among school staff will also support a smoother transition and integration. (9)

 

4. Remembering that teachers’ strengths are bolstered by PD

Professional development (PD) training opportunities that emphasize the overall experiences of newcomer students, including their social, cultural, psychological, and academic dimensions, are necessary. (10)

 

5. Taking responsibility for accessible mental health supports

School integration following immigration is demanding for newcomer youth, and, as such, it may result in experiences of anxiety, depression, and overall isolation. It is imperative for schools to have accessible counselling services in several languages. (11) At a policy level, supports for students may be enhanced by strengthening partnerships between schools and community clinics. These services would also be beneficial to the entire student population. (12) 

 

As we highlighted in this article, newcomer students who enroll in French school systems following immigration to predominantly English-speaking provinces have unique and sometimes complex needs and experiences. It is incumbent on schools to address them in ways that are culturally responsive, socially just, and ultimately promote the optimal development of newcomer students.

 

1 R. Houle, D. Pereira, & J.-P. Corbeil, “Statistical portrait of the French-speaking immigrant population outside Quebec (1991–2011),” Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2014: https://www.immigrationfrancophone.ca/images/Statistical_Portrait_of_the_Frenchspeaking_Immigrant_Population_1991_a_2011_june_2014.pdf

2 A. Gallucci & A. Kassan, “Now what?”: Exploring newcomer youth’s transition from high school to post-secondary education,” Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 53(1), 2019, p. 39–58: https://cjc-rcc.ucalgary.ca/article/view/61197

3 A. Kassan & R. Mukred, “Immigration and globalization: Impacts on newcomer youth’s educational experiences,” Diversity and Social Justice in Counseling, Psychology, and Psychotherapy: A Case Study Approach, Cognella Press, 2022, p. 329–342.

4 T.M. Molyneux, A. Kassan, & S. Ty, “‘Be yourself, rediscover yourself, and find new aspects of yourself’: An arts-based engagement ethnography of school integration among newcomer youth in the French public school system,” Manuscript in preparation.

5 K. Palova, A. Pagtalunan, L. Rahal, & A. Kassan, “Integration experiences of francophone newcomer students in English provinces: A literature review,” Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 38(2), 2023, p. 159–181: https://doi.org/10.1177/08295735231155045

6 A. Gallucci & A. Kassan, “Now what?”: Exploring newcomer youth’s transition from high school to post-secondary education,” Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 53(1), 2019, p. 39–58: https://cjc-rcc.ucalgary.ca/article/view/61197

7 G. Prasad, “Multiple minorities or culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) plurilingual learners? Re-envisioning allophone immigrant children and their inclusion in French language schools in Ontario,” Canadian Modern Language Review, 68(2), 2012, p. 190–215: https://doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.68.2.190

8 L. Volante, C. Lara, D. Klinger, & M. Siegel, “The Use of a Multidimensional Support Model to Examine Policies and Practices for Immigrant Students across Canada,” Canadian Journal of Education/Revue Canadienne De l’éducation, 43(1), 121–169, 2020: https://journals.sfu.ca/cje/index.php/cje-rce/article/view/3999

9 K. Palova, A. Pagtalunan, L. Rahal, & A. Kassan, “Integration experiences of francophone newcomer students in English provinces: A literature review,” Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 38(2), 2023, p. 159–181: https://doi.org/10.1177/08295735231155045

10 M.T. Masinda, M. Jacquet, & D. Moore, “An integrated framework for immigrant children and youth’s school integration: A focus on African francophone students in British Columbia – Canada,” International Journal of Education, 6(1), 2014: https://doi.org/10.5296/ije.v6i1.4321 

11 ibid.

12 L. Volante, C. Lara, D. Klinger, & M. Siegel, “The Use of a Multidimensional Support Model to Examine Policies and Practices for Immigrant Students across Canada,” Canadian Journal of Education/Revue Canadienne De l’éducation, 43(1), 121–169, 2020: https://journals.sfu.ca/cje/index.php/cje-rce/article/view/3999

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