LEAF program a gateway for students

International students have the opportunity to go through the LEAF program, which helps them gain proficiency in English before starting their undergraduate degree at Laurier’s campuses.

Photo by Kha Vo
Photo by Kha Vo

Students at Wilfrid Laurier University may be aware that there are students from abroad attending their classes, but they may not know that some of those students might have only learned English quite recently.

The Laurier English and Academic Foundation program, based at the Brantford campus, provides students with the opportunity to gain proficiency in English before starting their undergraduate degree at Laurier.

Students are first given a conditional offer to a program at either campus. Once they complete the LEAF program, they are then able to continue on to work through their undergraduate degree.

“They can come to us with any level of English,” said Valerie Kilgour, manager of LEAF. “As soon as they get here, we give them a test to figure out their level of ability and we place them in one of our five levels based on the outcome of that test.”

Each level spans over the course of a term, which runs in the fall, winter and two eight-week terms in the summer.

The program started in 2010 and ran with around 25 students. Since then, it has grown to 150 students, some terms running with up to 170.

“It’s been very successful and grown really well,” Kilgour continued.

Instructors, called facilitators, teach the courses and are all ESL professionals.

“They teach English, of course, but we’re also teaching them about Laurier and academic culture and Canadian academic culture in particular,” she said.

“We’re trying to really give them a foundation for when they start their undergrad degree.”

Kilgour explained that the program itself is designed to be very rigorous.

“As you can imagine, you have to learn a lot of English to be successful at university,” she said.

When some students come in with very low levels of English or no experience with the language at all, it can be difficult for them to gain the skills they need to be successful as an undergraduate. Sometimes students leave the program to get their English proficiency score elsewhere so they can start their

Laurier degree sooner. Others might not finish the program at all.

If students fail a level of the program they are able to redo it once; if they fail a second time, they are unable to continue.

“It’s not a bad thing because our goal is to prepare students to be successful undergrads,” said Kilgour. “So the way we see it if we let people through who are not going to be successful undergrads, we are not doing our job right.”

As such, the program needs to be strict in order to ensure the students’ success later on.

“[Of] those students who do graduate from the LEAF program, over 90 per cent of them go on to their undergraduate studies and are now — because LEAF is only four-years old — enrolled in undergraduate courses either at Brantford or at Waterloo,” Kilgour explained.

Anecdotally, Kilgour said that students who graduate from the LEAF program are more prepared for their undergraduate career than those who gain their English proficiency score elsewhere.

One of the challenges they experience is trying to help LEAF students integrate with Canadian students.

“As we would all do, they tend to hang out with people from their own country, who speak their language.”

The program works with many organizations on campus, such as the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union, and encourages students to interact with Canadian students in order to help with this.

Kilgour said that she is proud to have been working with LEAF since its inception. This past summer, they had their first student who went through the program graduate from Laurier, which Kilgour said they “are really proud of.”

“I think we’ve put standards in place that are really effective for producing the best students,” she said.

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