Israa Zein Alaabdin, 17, who came to Red Deer from Syria last year, reads to Grade 1 students Carter and Elise while teacher Kaylee Barnstable, right, looks on. The unique Reading Buddies partnership sees Lindsey Thurber Comprehensive High School ESL CALM students reading to Grade 1 students at Gateway Christian School.

Red Deer schools build cultural bridges with reading program

A non-threatening way to practise reading

A unique reading program involving two Red Deer schools is building cultural bridges while helping people new to Canada learn English in a non-threatening environment.

Doug Rowe, who teaches ESL Career and Life Management (CALM) students at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, had approached Gateway Christian School to see if they were interested in involving Grade 1 students with the Reading Buddies program this semester.

It’s turned into a much-anticipated weekly get-together for all the students. The LTCHS students are a diverse group, many have been in Canada for less than a year — from countries such as Syria, China, the Philippines and Africa. They are just learning to speak and read English.

The Grade 1 children themselves are just learning language basics and they are ever attentive as the LTCHS CALM students read different levels of children’s books such as the Dr. Seuss series and the Lion King. The LTCHS students practice reading during the week, and then on Wednesdays make their way over to the nearby Gateway Christian School to read to their little buddies for a half hour.

Grade 1 teachers Kaylee Barnstable and Karen Wolfmeyer say the children love it when the bigger Reading Buddies arrive.

The young students are just very accepting, said Wolfmeyer. The LTCHS students also get to share a bit about their lives with the children.

Barnstable said both groups of students are growing in their literacy ability. For the most part both groups are reading at the same level so both are benefiting.

“It’s just been amazing right from the start,” Rowe said.

“This is a really non-threatening way for them to come and practise their English. There’s no judgment, the kids accept them for who they are …. for their English level, for their accents. What you have here is a group of 60 kids ages 5 to 19 who have basically unconditional acceptance.”

“We’re breaking barriers and we’re breaking down stereotypes,” said Rowe.

Ola Zein Alaabdin, 19, is from Syria. She comes along as a volunteer to the reading program as well. Her sister Israa is in the ESL class.

She said the school system is different because in Syria the boys and girls attend separate classes. She arrived with her family last Dec. 26 and one thing she’s noticed, “It’s cold here.”

barr@bprda.wpengine.com

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