Schools in the Greater Montreal Area See an Increase in Welcome Class Enrollment Among Immigrants and Refugees


The resumption of immigration and especially the reopening of Roxham Road, at the Canada-US border, have caused the number of allophone student enrollments in schools in the greater Montreal area to skyrocket since the beginning of the year, according to school service center staff.

The largest school service center in Quebec, the Montreal School Service Center (CSSDM), is used to welcoming newcomers throughout the school year, but the pandemic had slowed the flow of registrations.

“As soon as there is an improvement on Roxham Road, you can feel it a few days, even a few weeks later,” said CSSDM services director Mathieu Desjardins.

He says that of the 210 children they welcomed in March, a third of them were from Mexico, Haiti, Colombia and Brazil. In total, there are more than 750 new CSSDM registrations since the start of 2022.

The number of allophone students in Montérégie is also on the rise. The Center de services scolaire Marie-Victorin (CSSMV) has several reception classesor reception classes, dedicated to teaching French to newcomers to Longueuil and Brossard.

“Since the reopening of Roxham Road, we have the impression of picking up where we left off before the pandemic,” explains Marie-Hélène Mathieu, intercultural mediator at the CSSMV.

The Marie-Victorin service center has set up a clothing depot for families who have fled their country. (Anne-Louise Despatie/Radio-Canada)

Reception class staff say the pandemic has made families with refugee status more vulnerable.

“With the pandemic, they are doubly vulnerable because they have been out of school for several months,” said Chantale Boutet, deputy director of educational services at CSSMV.

“Like many refugees, they haven’t had time to prepare for their migratory journey… When they arrive here, they don’t expect such a cold winter.”

Marie-Hélène Mathieu, intercultural mediator, left, and Chantale Boutet, assistant director of educational services at the Center de services scolaire Marie-Victorin have noted the increase in reception registrations at their service center. (Anne-Louise Despatie/Radio-Canada)

With a growing number of students from immigrant backgrounds, the CSSMV wanted to improve its reception network. Depending on the age of the children, a hybrid approach may enable more children to enter mainstream classes directly, especially at the start of primary school.

“Learning a second language, francization, is facilitated by being in a regular class,” said Mathieu.

For decades, reception classes have enabled thousands of students to learn French.

The Pointe-de-l’Île school service center (CSSPI), in northeast Montreal, has also seen an influx of students with refugee status.

“For those who spend a year or two in the reception class, for our students who arrive in primary school, it is fascinating how quickly they learn,” said Réginald Fleury, educational advisor at the CSSPI.. “That’s our role with Law 101. It’s a duty that we proudly fulfill every year.”

Valuable know-how

Like all students in the reception class, Rabine, whose family immigrated from Côte d’Ivoire, must take an exam to assess his knowledge of French. (Anne-Louise Despatie/Radio-Canada)

Faced with labor shortages in the province, hospitality class instructors have been called upon to lend a hand in other classes throughout the pandemic.

But the expertise of these instructors is invaluable, says Isabelle Bujold, a teacher at Anjou secondary school, who has been teaching reception classes for 13 years.

She says she hopes the teachers who left those classes for regular classes will come back.

“We’ve had students who have arrived via Roxham Road, who have walked across America, who have left Brazil, students who have lost family members along the way,” she said.

“We have some experience with students who have experienced trauma.”


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