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Councillor- City of Brandon
Ward 4 – University.

WIS program “working well”- Brandon Sun

FROM THE FILES OF THE BRANDON SUN

A new program that aims to help newcomer families navigate and adjust to Brandon’s school system is proving successful in its first few months in action.

Westman Immigrant Services executive director Lois MacDonald presents to city council Tuesday evening. (Erin DeBooy/The Brandon Sun)

The “Settlement Workers in Schools Program,” which is a partnership between Westman Immigrant Services and the Brandon School Division, has been operational since January, said Westman Immigrant Services executive director Lois MacDonald, with three settlement workers operating in approximately nine schools.

“We’re seeing some really great work happen in our schools with newcomer students and their families as well as school administration,” MacDonald said.

“They help to bridge some of the gaps that sometimes come up. Whether there are language barriers, cultural barriers or misunderstandings, those workers are really able to provide some facilitation to both school administration and newcomer families and help them navigate through the school system, which can be a bit daunting for any of us, really.”

This is the first time a program such as this has been done in Brandon, MacDonald said, but a number of similar programs have been launched — and are seeing success — across Manitoba.

“We’re very pleased to have the program and it seems to really be working well,” MacDonald said. “Sometimes it’s just helpful for newcomer families to have more of that on-on-one, culturally sensitive support.”

MacDonald presented the update on the program to city council on Tuesday, along with an overview about Westman Immigrant Services as a whole and how the organization would like to grow.

This is the first time Westman Immigrant Services has presented to city council, MacDonald said.

“It’s a good opportunity to share information about our organization and the programs and services we offer,” MacDonald said. “We support many, many newcomers through their settlement journey and we are quite a unique organization across the settlement sector … as far as offering many services all under one roof.”

The organization has submitted a proposal in hopes of receiving federal funding from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to expand settlement services and language programming across Southwestern Manitoba.

If their proposal is accepted, satellite offices would be set up in Russell, Virden and Cartwright, MacDonald said.

“We’re really excited about all of the opportunities that (funding) might create,” MacDonald said. “It would really turn Westman Immigrant Services into Westman Immigrant Services — which is our name, but is not necessarily how we’ve been operating. It would really see our organization become a regional service delivery organization for settlement and language services for newcomers.”

Coun. Shaun Cameron (University) asked MacDonald if their proposal addressed English language benchmarks, noting when the federal government shifted focus to Levels 1 through 4, newcomers needing access to Level 5 through Level 8 faced significant challenges.

MacDonald said Westman Immigrant Services — which currently offers Level 1 to Level 4 — partnered with Assiniboine Community College — which offers Level 5 to Level 8 — within the call for proposals, and plans to work with the college in providing a seamless transition between levels.

» edebooy@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @erindebooy

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