Increased immigration in western P.E.I. brings school staffing challenges

·2 min read
English or French as an additional language students will spend part of their days working on improving their English or French language skills. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)
English or French as an additional language students will spend part of their days working on improving their English or French language skills. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)

Education officials on Prince Edward Island say there has been a significant increase in the number of newcomer students in classrooms in western P.E.I., and many require extra language training.

Five years ago, there were about 100 newcomers in schools from Summerside to Tignish — that has grown to about 300 for the 2020-21 school year.

"We've seen our schools there [in Summerside], in particular a couple of our elementary schools, double their [English as an additional language] population this school year — so a school has gone from having 10 students in their building that need support to 24 students," said Janet Perry-Payne, the administrator for the Education Department's English as an additional language-French as an additional language program, in an interview with Mainstreet P.E.I.'s Angela Walker.

Every school in the Summerside area has some new language learners, she said, from Hong Kong, Vietnam and the Philippines.

All but a couple schools in more rural areas of western P.E.I., like Alberton and Tignish, have seen a "dramatic increase" in the number of students from families who have come to the area to work in fish and other processing plants, mostly from the Philippines, she said.

'A very exciting time for P.E.I.'

That growth has required the department to make some changes to staffing.

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

"When you are learning a new language, and you may be at the beginning stages of that learning, you do require support when you're in the school system," Perry-Payne explained.

The department started the past school year with only five itinerant teachers, and now has seven.

Perry-Payne said looking ahead to the next school year, they want to be sure they will have staff in place if this trend continues, but they are not sure how many more teachers they will need to attend to the new students' needs.

The program works closely with immigration officials, she said, but they often don't know who is coming until the last minute.

"The excitement that immigration brings to P.E.I. for me outweighs the challenges," Perry-Payne said.

"It's about the diversity, it's about bringing the world to the doorsteps of our schools — 25 years ago that wasn't what our classrooms experienced here on P.E.I. You might not have ever met someone from Vietnam ... to learn about another culture.

"It is a very exciting time for P.E.I."

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