Local students welcomed visitors from Colombia

May 29, 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Tabitha Wells – Last Wednesday evening, parents, teachers and students from Credit Meadows, Island Lake, Montgomery Village and Princess Elizabeth elementary schools gathered at the Princess Elizabeth gym to welcome 21 students from Bogotá, Colombia to Orangeville.

The students, who are participating in the Upper Grand District School Board’s (UGDSB) International Students Program, will spend a month in Canada to help further their English-speaking skills by immersing themselves in the culture.

“It’s a great opportunity with our kids to bring more diversity into the schools, and we had so many kids that were so thrilled to do this,” said Nicole Patriquin, International Student Admissions Coordinator with the Upper Grand District School Board. “This is our first year having students in the schools here to help, and the first group of short-term students from abroad.”

Bogotá is the capital of Colombia and one of the largest cities in Latin America. For the Colombian students, being sent to another country to strengthen their English is a normal part of their education for middle to upper class families.

The international students are each placed with one buddy at a host family from one of the four Orangeville schools, as well as have a teacher from their own school and representative from their agency to help the kids during their time here.

“The students that we saw getting off the plane last [Tuesday], as tired as they were, were so excited and when we walked in they wanted to start practicing their English right away,” said Ms. Patriquin. “And all the kids here are ecstatic to be having them. They jumped at it. I was surprised by the number of students who wanted to participate.”

One of the students, Esteban, found everything was a lot to take in, and was immediately surprised by the differences between here and Colombia.

“The houses here are so big and the schools are so cool,” he said. “It gets so cold at night here.”

At their kick-off dinner last Wednesday, Orangeville Mayor Rob Adams made a special appearance to welcome the kids to our town and wish them a good time in their adventure. Following his greeting, the students and their host families were treated to fresh pizza, and the kids had the opportunity to pick shirts to tie-dye the next day for outings with the group.

“We’ll be taking them to different places on the Saturday’s while we’re here, so they will wear the shirts on the weekends as part of the group,” said Ms. Patriquin. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we will be doing activities with them after school. Pottery in the Hills is coming and doing an evening with them so that they can have something to take home. The kids from Colombia really enjoy playing tennis so they will get a tennis lesson at the Headwaters Racquet Club.”

The students’ Canadian buddies will also get to participate in all of the activities, including the Saturday excursions. This past Saturday, the students took a trip to Niagara Falls, and over the coming month they will also get to attend Canada’s Wonderland, a Blue Jays game, Ripley’s Aquarium and a trip to the Toronto Zoo.

“I think our students will really like the experience and the opportunity to spend time with kids from another culture,” said Ms. Patriquin.

Currently the board has another group from Japan that is interested in sending students here for the short-term trip, but there are also long-term groups that stay for a longer period to learn English and culture here.

Ms. Patriquin explained that the long-term groups are beneficial because they help combat the decreasing enrollment numbers in the school, making it possible to avoid cutbacks and layoffs.

“Because of this we have a lot of teachers which are keeping their jobs, which is really good, and a lot of the programs that might get cut because of funding are not being cut because we’re able to bring students here and populate the rest of our seats with the long term ones,” she said. “And with the short term ones, we’re able to enhance the cultural experience for everybody.”

She added that one of the draws to the Upper Grand District School board for the agencies within these programs is the location.

“One of the big draws for our area kind of is our lack of diversity,” she said. “They like that because when the students come here, they really have to use their English because there aren’t pockets of other languages here. They love this area, too, because it’s close to Toronto, close to Niagara Falls, so they really can have the experiences still and do something different with it.”

The group from Colombia is considered the trial group to see whether or not the program will work within UGDSB schools, and whether it is beneficial to carry it forward.

“We will see how this goes and then decide if we will do this again,” said Ms. Patriquin. |It was a lot of work to do, but I think it’s going to be really beneficial.”

The Colombian students will stay in Canada with their host families until June 17.

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