New Ukrainian students in Edmonton look forward to a normal school year

New Ukrainian students in Edmonton look forward to a normal school year
New Ukrainian students in Edmonton look forward to a normal school year

Dennis Kovtun/CBC

Among the thousands of children returning to Edmonton schools this fall are students from Ukraine, who are coming to Canada for the first time after fleeing war in their home country.

Nine-year-old Alisa Timokhova and her five-year-old brother Dmytro attend St. Martin Catholic Elementary School in south Edmonton. Alisa is in Grade 4 and Dmytro is in kindergarten.

Their mother, Daria Timokhova, said the children are very excited about the upcoming school year. The family arrived in Edmonton in late May without their father, who is fighting Russians in Ukraine.

“My children want to go to school because in Ukraine they don’t want to go to school,” says Timokhova, who is learning English.

In addition to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dramatically changed education for students around the world, Ukrainian students are also dealing with war after Russia invaded the country in February.

“This is very difficult for children,” said Timokhova.

She said that when they were still in Ukraine, Dmytro had a kindergarten teacher who worked with him. But she was worried about Alisa, who was home alone for days and taking classes online.

Timokhova said she is very happy that her daughter is finally going to a real school.

St. Martin offers a bilingual Ukrainian program for students from kindergarten through grade 6.

Canada welcomed more than 77,000 Ukrainians between January and August 21.

The Edmonton Catholic School Board welcomes 237 Ukrainian students to their schools.

Sarah Fedoration, language manager for the board, said most students enroll in schools that offer the bilingual Ukrainian program.

According to Fedoration, the school board has been offering the bilingual program for more than 20 years.

“It seems like a natural fit for them,” Fedoration told CBC Edmonton morning on Monday.

In addition to St. Martin, most Ukrainian students attend St. Matthew Elementary School, St. Brendan Elementary/Junior High School, and Austin O’Brien High School.

The school board’s teachers are no strangers to newcomers, even those fleeing war. They understand the trauma, the sense of uncertainty and the pressure to adapt to the new reality that these students experience, Fedoration said.

That is why they immediately receive structure and support.

“It really creates a sense of ease,” she said. “And of course, our teachers are so good at welcoming students and building relationships.”

She said these relationships help teachers better anticipate students’ individual needs in the future.

Fedoration said the school began preparing for Ukrainian students immediately after the war broke out. “We knew we would be expecting students,” she said.

Teachers and staff have received professional training in war-related trauma and are adapting their lessons to ensure students have what they need to start the school year well, she said.

Black Gold School Division from Leduc welcomes 13 Ukrainian students to their schools.

St. Albert Public Schools confirmed there are 30 students from Ukraine, but a spokesperson said more are expected in the coming days.

Edmonton Public Schools was unable to provide information at the time of publication on the number of Ukrainian students attending the schools.