Students return to high school

Over Reading Week, a group of students from the Laurier Afghan Students Association made presentations to a large group of English as a second language (ESL) students at Forest Heights Collegiate Institute (FHCI) in Kitchener on the prospect of post-secondary education. Many of the Laurier students were returning to their high school after completing ESL programming and moving on to university.

Club president Khaled Wahab, a second year sociology and global studies student, explained that the club’s mandate includes fostering awareness of Afghan culture along with ensuring that students who come to Canada and enrol in high school ESL programs see university as a possibility. “ESL students often think it’s too hard,” Wahab said. “We want to reveal to them the different ways they can still reach post-secondary education.”

Noting that these students often don’t attend presentations from university representatives, Wahab said that there was a need for an ESL-specific initiative of this sort. “To have a particular talk for ESL students to encourage them with firsthand stories of students that have been in that school and have been in their place — I think that made a big difference for them,” he said.

Wahab noted that many of the 50 to 60 students present were in grades 9 and 10 and that it was important to get them thinking of the possibility of post-secondary education early. “When I was in high school there were a lot of things that were not explained well,” he said. “If I had someone like this come and talk to me when I was in high school I think I could have done a lot more than I have so far.”

Bob Somerville, head of the ESL program at FHCI, said that there are approximately 250 ESL students at the school. “A lot of the students here or elsewhere think that they’ll never ever make it to higher education, they’ll never have those skills,” he said, adding that the presentation was a great resource for this group and spurred questions and conversation among students even after the fact.

Somerville, who has been at FHCI for more than 20 years, noted that he had noticed a shift toward post-secondary education and university in particular.

“Mostly our students would have gone to Conestoga, but now a somewhat larger percentage of our students are going to university and have expressed a desire to do so. I don’t have statistics for it, but generally speaking I think more students are going.”

“Many of the students return and they have been very successful.”
Wahab and the group plan on returning to FHCI as well as holding similar presentations at many other local high schools.

Emmy Misser, manager of Laurier’s Writing Centre, said that high school ESL students face the same issues as their native English-speaking counterparts, with some extenuating factors. “The same standards are expected, so there’s not a whole lot of leeway for them,” she said. “That’s a lot of pressure, and I can add that from personal experience … you process intellectually more slowly when you are processing in another language.”

However, after completing comprehensive ESL programs in high school, incoming students like the group at FHCI face the same sorts of issues as any students, Misser said. “Remember back to when you were a first-year student, you were probably confused by the academic lingo as well and abstract words that you had to master very quickly.”