The 2018 statistics from the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership show that youth make up over 60% of the area’s newcomer population. However, unlike for adult newcomers, there are limited options for these youth to learn English.
The lack of youth-accessible language learning opportunities led SFU students Saba Fatemi, Eunbee Baik and Rufaida Kheraj as well as alumni Trisha Dulku and Ricky Lalli to develop the CommuniCreate program.
“I was also a student who was struggling to find opportunities to learn English. So I was excited about creating a program that can help these students,” shares Baik.
Nurturing connection and self-paced learning
CommuniCreate aims to foster youths’ success through hands-on activities that teach practical life skills beneficial in their daily lives. The program aspires to create a safe, enjoyable environment where youth can connect with other people in their communities, express their creativity and build confidence.
The program has partnered with DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, a registered charity in Surrey that offers a wide range of services to empower newcomers and other diverse communities to build a life they love in Canada.
Mike Lally, Manager of DIVERSEcity’s Youth Programs, clarifies that CommuniCreate serves as an extension of Youth Expressions, a new initiative designed to respond to the impacts of COVID-19. He emphasizes that CommuniCreate has helped reduce stress and the sense of isolation and loneliness many youth have experienced during the pandemic. DIVERSEcity’s role is to refer eligible youth to the program and provide ongoing support throughout, including first language support.
Lally highlights the importance of the program’s informal setting which allows youth to learn English at their own pace in a nurturing environment without the pressure of tests or judgement around making mistakes.
“We want to be sure we’re meeting clients where they’re at, not where society feels youth should be at,” he says.
Dynamic curriculum with individualized mentorship
The inaugural session of CommuniCreate was held twice a week for an hour and a half in the summer of 2020. Participants included 16 newcomer youth ranging from early teens to early twenties and 22 university volunteers. Baik explains that the program was originally intended for newcomer youth ages 13 to 17, but interest from youth outside of that age range led organizers to expand the eligibility.
Baik highlights the structure of a typical program session, which begins by teaching key vocabulary related to the session topic, followed by a film activity and worksheet and the opportunity to play various games related to English language learning. At the end of the session, students are given a real life scenario and apply what they have learned to come up with an appropriate response. Baik emphasizes that the online format necessitated by COVID-19 created a set up where many activities take place one-on-one in Zoom breakout rooms. This allows the volunteers to effectively adjust to the students’ level.
“I think that’s the greatest strength of our program,” she says.
Multiple program benefits
According to Baik, feedback from both students and teachers indicated that students had improved their English, especially in the particular areas that mattered to them, such as vocabulary and reading. In addition, they developed friendships with the volunteer teachers.
Lally emphasizes that the program has had a significant impact in a very short time.
“Youth said that with schools being closed, they found this program helped fill that void [and enabled them] to practice their English and improve on their levels and spend quality time practicing with the mentors at CommuniCreate,” he says. “It’s helped them to learn new vocabulary, be able to converse with others in a more practical way and really build confidence to be able to do things for themselves in public.”
The next session of CommuniCreate starts on Sept. 28 and will run on Mondays from 3:30–5 p.m. Youth can register until Sept. 25 here: www.sfu.ca/cec/get-involved/program-registration.html. University students interested in volunteering in the program can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit www.sfu.ca/cec/programs-activities/active-programs/CommuniCreate.html