Njteh is just like any other kid in Mr. C’s split grade 4-5 class at Sir Edgar Bauer Catholic Elementary School in Waterloo. He loves playing with his friends at recess, his favourite subject is gym, and he dreams of one day becoming a basketball player.
But Njteh has had to overcome a lot to get to where he is – his family fled civil conflict in Syria, arriving in Canada last February. Faced with a new school, country, and language, Njteh has taken each challenge in stride – quickly learning English and growing into a leader, class clown, and inspiration to his teacher and fellow students.
When I was younger I used to think a lot of things were hard. But as I grow up, I am starting to find it is easier to do things.
I didn’t expect to end up being here at this school. The journey here was long. My family travelled to a little village in Syria, and from there we had to take a bus to Lebanon. We waited there for months. About a week after my birthday, we boarded a flight to Canada. The thing I miss the most from back home is my family members, my friends, my school and my neighbors. It was hard to leave them behind.
There are a lot of new and different things here. At first, things were challenging. But it’s been a lot of fun learning English. My classmates have helped me with a lot of things. They share their ideas and when I don’t understand them, they try to translate and look for ways to get the message to me. Mr. C has helped me a lot with everything in the class and has made it fun. It helps because he is able to speak Arabic with me.
The school is also very big and different than back home. In Syria, we didn’t have telephones or computers in the classroom. Working with all the technology has been really good. I like how technology can help people here and it has really helped me with my learning. Last year, my cousins and I used Google Slide to make a presentation about how to welcome other new students to school. We wanted to talk about how you can help other people like us who came from another country, and how to help them get used to this new environment.
One of my favourite things here is going outside with my friends. We talk about how school is going, all our activities, and the weekend. I like telling jokes and making my friends laugh. I’m pretty sure I make everyone’s day when I joke around and they smile and laugh.
Rolland Chidiac has been Njteh’s teacher for a year and a half. His connection with Njteh has inspired him to grow both personally and professionally.
I remember when Njteh showed up at our school last February, he looked like a tiny guy, a little nervous and a little hesitant to be in a new place. That day I shared with him that I was Middle Eastern and I could understand Arabic and a little bit of Armenian. And I remember joking around about that and for the first little while I would ask him how to say certain words in his language and we would kind of compare our stories of growing up within a similar culture. He reminded me a lot of me at his age.
Although Njteh has faced more than many of us will face in a lifetime, he’s quickly grown to become one of the leaders in the classroom, and he continues to learn and grow in all areas. It is really funny because he is so well integrated into the class community that sometimes we forget that he’s still learning English. All the students in the class look up to him as a leader. He has a great sense of humour and you can always count on him for a joke.
One of the things I appreciate the most about Njteh is his openness to share his experiences and his understanding. It’s kind of heightened my work in a way because I’ve worked with many ESL students and each is a little different, but he’s open to sharing his experiences and he’s not had the best of experiences just having left Syria and having gone to other countries just to get here.
Working with Njteh has inspired me to further my own education, and I recently completed a course that helped me learn to work with English-language learners. I’ve grown a lot as a person and as a teacher because of my connection with him. The language barrier hasn’t really been a major barrier because we’ve all been open to getting around it.