On Friday, Westman Immigrant Services (WIS) had its annual general meeting. It is a great time to look back at all that had been accomplished. All program areas submitted reports on activities throughout the past year. I would like to share some excerpt from these reports to highlight what has been accomplished.
In this column, I will focus on some special events and community involvement and the English language program and next month, I will write about the activities in the integration program, the Brandon Community Language Centre and the employment program.
This year has been a year of change. We have moved to a new location, undergone an organization change in staff structuring, seen a shift in the newcomer population to Brandon and have adapted to working as a whole unit, instead of two individual programs.
WIS was involved in many community initiatives throughout the year. We played a strong role in the creation of the Global Market, set to open on July 5, participated in many activities put on by the Brandon Cultural Awareness Network, continued to be a strong presence at the Brandon Immigrant Services Network Advisory Board, worked closely with the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation and brought the immigrant voice to the Community Advisory Board on Homelessness.
Besides direct community involvement, WIS has partnered with UBC to participate in a research study to understand how immigrants adapt to life in smaller Canadian cities.
The study will seek to understand how adaptations related to immigration and settlement impact their health and well-being by using the photovoice method to explore the immigrants’ stories and visual representations of their perspectives and experiences.
The English as an Addition Language (EAL) program conducted 84 classes last year. At the end of the term, there was, on average, 400 students enrolled. Class attendance was at 75 per cent. Our classes are tasked-based, which means we teach English for practical use in the community and at work to support settlement into the community. Classes are interactive and are designed to be a safe environment for learners to practise their English language skills. EAL classes can be a lot of fun for the learners even though learning a language is always hard work.
Our teachers follow the Canadian Language Benchmarks to guide their planning and follow protocols set out by our funder at the Adult Language Training (ALT) Branch.
Teachers also value support from community members. Our EAL volunteer co-ordinator matches community volunteers with teaching backgrounds to assist in our classes. Volunteers lend a hand by assisting individual students needing extra attention and by supporting pairs and small groups while working on task-based activities.
Last year, we had 24 EAL volunteers who assisted in the classroom or facilitated one of three weekly conversation groups. Our classroom volunteers also model language dialogues with the teacher and support the overall learning in the class.
In January, we began a pilot project with four volunteers coming once a month into a level-three classroom to provide English conversation practice for students. This has opened an opportunity for busy people to volunteer monthly in the English class and have a great cross-cultural experience. It has been a highlight for the teachers, volunteers as well as the students.
The entry program provides orientation/settlement information to newcomers through EAL activities, community tours and guest speakers. The program is four weeks in length. Each week has a theme: Welcome to Brandon, Health and Safety, Employment and Education and Canadian Laws. Students also attend presentations on Cultural Adaptation and Financial Literacy. On Wednesdays of each week, there are community presentations and tours. Overall, there are presentations from five WIS staff and 15 community speakers each month.
This year, 198 newcomers graduated from the entry program.
WIS also operates the Brandon Assessment Centre and uses the Canadian Language Benchmark Placement Test (CLBPT) to assess clients’ English levels. The assessment covers levels one to eight of the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB), with level one signifying beginners and level eight signifying the most advanced clients. Each assessment consists of a test and level assignment in four skill areas: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Following each assessment, the assessor makes a class referral that will best accentuate the clients’ strengths and help them improve upon their weaknesses.
Last year, the assessment team conducted 462 CLBPT assessments.
» Leslie Allen is the executive director of Westman Immigrant Services˚. Her column appears monthly.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 23, 2012