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Immigrant youth want English courses to count toward high school graduation

October 1, 2013

Immigrant and refugee youth are calling upon the B.C. Ministry of Education to allow English Language Learning (also known as English as a Second Language) courses to count toward high school graduation.

Vancouver, BC – Immigrant and refugee youth are calling upon the B.C. Ministry of Education to allow English Language Learning (also known as English as a Second Language) courses to count toward high school graduation credits by launching an online petition through  The petition results will be presented to the Minister of Education later this year.

The crediting of English Language Learning (ELL) in high school is just one of 16 recommendations contained in the new report Fresh Voices from Long Journeys: Insights of Immigrant and Refugee Youth sponsored by Vancouver Foundation and B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth.

“When a high school student in BC learns a new language, they get credit towards their graduation, unless they’re an immigrant student learning English,” said Dina Ganan Perez, a member of the Fresh Voices Youth Advisory Team that produced the report.  “At the very least, our hard work at school should be worth just as much as anyone else’s.”

The Fresh Voices report contains 16 recommendations on how government and community organizations could better address the challenges that immigrant and refugee youth commonly face living in BC, ranging from inequities in the school system to the unique role they play in the family to connecting to the community.

“Immigrant and refugee youth serve as a vital linchpin within their family, connecting older and younger generations to integral components of Canadian society,” said Kevin McCort, President and CEO of Vancouver Foundation.  “The recommendations in this report are meant to strengthen our communities by eliminating forms of discrimination, celebrating our diversity, enhancing our sense of belonging and building cross-cultural awareness and understanding.”

The Fresh Voices from Long Journeys project is a joint initiative of Vancouver Foundation and the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth.  Its mandate was to host the fourth annual Champions for Children And Youth Summit, held in October 2011.  The event attracted more than 100 immigrant and refugee youth, who discussed their experiences as newcomers to Canada and ways to improve the well-being of their community.  The summit was followed by a series of regional meetings in Nanaimo, Victoria, Langley and Prince George in 2012.

In total, approximately 200 immigrant and refugee youth were consulted and their input incorporated into the final Fresh Voices report.  The report, recommendations and accompanying video were created by a youth advisory team of 18 immigrant and refugee youth volunteers. The full report is available at

“I am very pleased to see the valuable work that began with the 2011 Summit has continued and resulted in this report and these recommendations by the Youth Advisory Team,’’ said Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. “The goal has always been for the voices of immigrant and refugee youth in B.C. to be clearly heard by decision-makers. This is a strong report and the youth who compiled it deserve credit for the fine work they have done to raise awareness of the challenges they face and encourage multiple levels of governments to better address those challenges.”

Fresh Voices from Long Journeys Recommendations

    1. Allow English Language Learning (ELL) courses — also known as English as a Second Language (ESL) courses — to count towards high school graduation.
    1. Implement a special credit program for languages spoken at home (not otherwise taught in the regular school system).
    1. Increase opportunities for immigrant-facilitated dialogues in schools, and ensure participation from senior education, government and community leaders.
    1. Provide anti-oppression, anti-racism and cultural awareness training to teachers and other school staff who work with immigrant and refugee students and communities.
    1. Include more immigrants and refugees on the governing bodies of school districts, parent advisory committees, and student councils.
    1. Ensure ELL/ESL testing, assessment, placement and academic guidance is consistent across BC.
    1. Develop mentorship programs where older immigrant and refugee young adults support younger peers to overcome difficulties and navigate the system.
    1. Promote international spaces to talk about the impact that changes in roles and responsibilities have on traditional family values, dynamics and identities – particularly when youth seem to become the ‘head of the families’ or key caregivers.
    1. Provide support to young adults in families from newcomer backgrounds to advance their education and employment goals.
    1. Develop and provide specific program services for refugee youth, young girls and queer immigrants and refugees.
    1. Speed up family reunification efforts by enabling provincial staff to inform and influence federal immigration decision-making timelines.
    1. Create better pre-departure and post-arrival resources for immigrant and refugee youth.
    1. All children and youth in Canada should have access to essential services such as education and health care, as outlined in the Convention on Rights of the Child.
    1. Federal, provincial and municipal funding and practices should strengthen the ability of cultural groups to come together to support themselves, such as peer mentorship programs for youth.
    1. Federal, provincial and municipal funding should be allocated towards supporting conversations and spaces for diverse cultural groups among both self-identified cultural groups and other mixed groups.
    1. Government agencies and social service organizations must take more action to recruit, hire, train and promote people from immigrant and refugee background for key decision-making positions.

About Vancouver Foundation

With almost 1,500 funds and assets totaling $814 million, Vancouver Foundation is Canada’s largest community foundation. In 2012, Vancouver Foundation and its donors made more than 4,000 grants, totaling approximately $46 million to registered charities across Canada.  Grant recipients range from social services to medical research groups, to organizations devoted to arts and culture, the environment, education, children and families, disability supports for employment, youth issues and animal welfare.

About the Representative for Children and Youth

The Representative for Children and Youth supports children, youth and families who need help in dealing with the child- and youth-serving system, provides oversight to the Ministry of Children and Family Development and advocates for improvements to the child- and youth-serving system. To find out more visit: or follow on social media:  Facebook (B.C .’s Representative for Children and Youth) and Twitter @rcybc

For more information

Vancouver Foundation Communications

Jeff Rud

Communications Director

Representative for Children and Youth