By Mona Bacon, EPL Community Librarian. Matt Bell is a former EPL employee.
Ammar is a confident and outgoing grade eleven student with a ready smile and a great sense of humour. He is also a newcomer to Canada. He recently arrived in Edmonton from Syria and, like the other 16 teens who have come to the EPL Castle Downs Branch on a cold December night, Ammar is eager to learn the language and culture of his new home.
Ammar and the other teens come to the Library to attend Youth Talk, a unique conversation group for immigrant youth, with a focus on Syrian refugees. This program is helping high school students develop their English conversation skills, while at the same time honing their leadership skills and familiarity with the Canadian society and culture.
Each Youth Talk session covers a different theme. Recent topics have included the Canadian perspective on everything from sports and music to religious tolerance. Facilitators provide practical information and examples (like a full set of hockey equipment because nothing is more quintessentially Canadian than hockey!), along with vocabulary lists relating to the current topic. The teens have a chance to explore the topic by asking questions and practising a conversation around the topic. They not only expand their English language skills, but also their knowledge in key aspects of Canadian culture and lifestyle.
In upcoming sessions, Ammar and the other teens will also be encouraged to share their new knowledge with others by means of public speaking opportunities. While the Youth Talk program has the lofty goal of providing newcomer youth with opportunities to increase their communication skills and enhance their academic achievements, I get the sense from visiting with these high school students that they also are having a great deal of fun. The speakers and activities are engaging and relevant, and the group of teens is dynamic and excited to be learning together.
While Ammar was the first to share his experience with me, several others were keen to let me know how valuable the Youth Talk program has been for them. They all agreed that the program has increased their language skills and, consequently, their confidence level at school. Students who attend the program are from Queen Elizabeth, ME Lazerte, Jasper Place and Ross Shepherd High Schools.
This program is facilitated by Action for Healthy Communities and is an extension of the A4HC Winter Camp Program for newcomer youth. If you are interested in learning more about Youth Talk at Castle Downs Branch, please feel free to contact EPL.