Students come from all over the world to attend school in this district, where they have the chance to improve their English and, in many cases, to see snow for the first time.
At last month’s Vernon School District board meeting, held at Charles Bloom secondary, Catarina Andrade Moreira de Souza from Brazil, Andres Cabanzo Ramirez and Valeria Sanchez Santana, both from Colombia, talked about their experiences as Bloom students for the past two months, illustrating their presentation with a slide show.
“We had a magical experience that we will remember forever,” said Catarina.
The students — all enrolled in the short-stay program — enjoyed a taste of some typically Canadian activities: curling, skiing, skating, Vernon Vipers hockey games and building snowmen.
“Building a snowman was something we had seen in movies, and this was awesome because we don’t have snow in Brazil,” said Catarina.
Valeria said attending a Vernon Vipers hockey game was a highlight of her stay in the North Okanagan.
“We don’t have ice hockey in Colombia, and here all people love hockey,” she said. “We threw Teddy bears at the Vernon Vipers game. And we made friends from all over the world.”
Andres said he appreciated the opportunity to branch out from strictly academic courses, by taking electives such as PE and woodworking.
“And in social studies class, we had the opportunity to learn about B.C.’s economy, and things like the forest industry and the importance of salmon,” he said. “This has been such a good experience and the best part of the trip has been getting to know people, while at the same time always practising your English.”
Bloom principal Ken Gatzke said the international program is a positive experience for everyone at the school.
“There is lots of cultural exchange and that’s a tremendous learning experience, and it helps our students really gain and grow their acceptance of other students, so its a fantastic piece of learning on both sides, and our kids benefit from learning about other cultures,” he said.
Short-stay students attend a district school for two months, and Bloom vice-principal Bryan Out said the program’s intent is for them to experience life and the culture in Canada, the Okanagan, and high school life, as well as to improve their English language abilities.
“As many of the students are coming from larger cities in their home country, the adjustment to a small, rural setting like Lumby can take some time,” said Out. “However, the friendliness and welcoming spirit of a rural community and small school make the students feel welcome and at home.
“In fact, there have been several instances where short stay students have enjoyed being here so much that they extend their stay to become full- time students, a strong indicator of the success of the program.”
Out said one of the biggest benefits of the program is the sharing of culture and language.
“Students at Bloom help the international students with this and at the same time are learning about different countries, cultures and language from the international students,” said Out. “The students’ learning is always our focus, and this program adds to the learning experience and broadens their understanding. These sharing of experiences have blossomed into lifelong friendships and connections that will span the continents.”
Students in the short stay program range from Grade 8 to 12. They are in a variety of academic and elective courses and all are enrolled in a Canadian Culture and English class.
“Staff at Bloom have been wonderful in welcoming the students into their classrooms and supporting them in their studies,” said Out.
He added the program would not be as successful as it is without the homestay families who welcome the students into their homes.
“These families open their homes to the short stay students and provide wonderful support and ensure the students are well cared for during their time here,” said Out. “The students greatly appreciate the care given by their host parents and the feeling of being one of the family. Experiences such as learning to milk the cows on the family farm are ones that the students will remember for a lifetime.”
In addition to the host families, Out said there are many individuals who work hard to make the student experience enjoyable and successful.
He said school counselor Steve Plecas has designed a class schedule that has the students experience a wide range of courses in both academics and electives.
“Steve is also responsible for the welcome workshop and activities when the students arrive. During this time, Steve explains some of the differences the students might notice at a Canadian school, tours them through the school, explains their class schedules, takes care of the small but important things like how to open your locker, and answers any questions. During their time at Charles Bloom, Steve is the person they contact regarding any class concerns.”
Bloom teacher Christine Yamaoka taught the Canadian Culture and English Language class, and worked on developing the students’ English, discussed Canadian culture and activities, and worked on everyday things like ordering lunch from a restaurant in town.
One lesson took place before the students attended the annual Vernon Vipers Teddy Bear Toss night, when Yamaoka taught the students the basics of hockey and its terminology.
“The connection that Christine made with these students was very evident. During the last day of her class she was overwhelmed by the students who wanted to take their picture with her. I must have taken pictures on 20 different cameras that class.”
Out said homestay coordinator Janice Foster works tirelessly to find homestays and host families for each of the students.
“If there is one area that needs more support to help the program to continue, it is families that are willing to open up their homes and enjoy the wonderful experience of being a host family.”
And just as crucial as the academic portion of their time at Bloom, the extra-curricular activities organized by international department teacher Sue Ghattas were essential to the students’ Canadian immersion experience.
“Sue was responsible for all of the after-school and weekend activities that were planned. Attending hockey games, trips to Silver Star and Gardom Lake, swimming, bowling, movie nights are just some of the activities the students participated in.”