The Kootenay Lake school district is financially prepared to accommodate incoming Syrian refugees thanks to the allocation of a budget surplus finalized on Tuesday. And though there are no finalized plans for refugees to settle in the area, the student population is already preparing to welcome them.
“We recognize, and I’ve been saying this for six years, that the district needs to be preparing for higher levels of migrant students,” superintendent Jeff Jones told the Star. “As a public school district we need to step outside the political frame and welcome all children and youth.”
The bottom line, according to Jones: “We will accept them, work with them, welcome them.”
Currently the district isn’t sure how many, if any, refugees will end up in Nelson. But Jones is aware of a number of groups and churches in the community working towards bringing them here.
Trustee Curtis Bendig sees this as an opportunity for students to engage deeply with global issues that affect them.
“The piece that really stands out for me is that the board has set our student expectations and one of those is citizenship and one is resiliency,” Bendig said. “There’s a lot of learning to be done by welcoming refugee families, in addition to the humanitarian aspect. It’s definitely something our district needs to be a part of and needs to be involved in.”
He said students in School District 8 are already demonstrating a stronger sense of the world’s issues than his generation.
“The students we have in our schools, they know they’re growing up in a shrinking world. I think it’s something they understand even better than we do.”
L.V. Rogers principal Tim Huttemann agrees, and told the Star he’s immensely proud of students like Arianna Murphy-Steed, a Grade 12 student in Tamara Martin’s Global Perspectives class, who helped organize the recent Harry Potter fundraiser to raise funds for refugees.
With students like that, he feels they’re in a great position to lend a helping hand.
“I’d love to see a Syrian family come in. As a school we’d love to sponsor a family. I think that would be so cool.”
Mount Sentinel principal Glen Campbell is also proud of his students, who recently participated in their first annual Sustainability Day and started a #WeAreReady banner campaign to call for action on climate disruption.
“Our school counsellor the other day heard kids lined up outside her window talking about Donald Trump’s latest comments and how despicable they were, how racist. They were saying ‘how can we have leaders like this?’ and we as a staff chuckled, like what have we done to these kids? They’re talking geopolitics on their own time.”
He said his students would be “very receptive” to welcoming and supporting refugees and the potential influx will be a good thing for the community.
“If you look at the Kootenays as a whole, we’re seeing a declining population, certainly with the youth. There’s a natural opening for migration to this area.”
Secretary-treasurer Kim Morris said the surplus allocation will also cover the costs of students moving from one school to the next within the district.
The funds will cover the cost of adding additional classroom space, for whatever students may need it. But Jones and Bendig both said there are still unanswered questions in how this situation will pan out.
“There’s a lot of big question marks,” Bendig said. “But there’s a lot of people having initial conversations and trying to get organized, having meetings so we can be prepared as possible. Hopefully soon a lot of those question marks will be removed.”