'Je Suis La': Quebec City teacher welcomes refugee children with music, field trips
TORONTO -- At one of Canada’s oldest grade schools, Ecole St-Malo in Quebec City, teacher Nancy Fall is finding unique ways to introduce refugee children to the Canadian outdoors and local culture.
The students in her integration class, all between the ages of nine and 12, even have some of their lessons in the forest.
“They just go and explore nature, go through the seasons, see what Quebec City is about,” Fall told CTV’s Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme. “They should know the forest, they should know (Canada’s) nature.”
One of her class projects has caught extra attention around Quebec: a song about travelling to Canada, performed by the students.
“Je Suis La” (which loosely translates to “I’m here”) was posted on YouYube this summer, and has racked up more than 20,000 views since then. The children wrote the song themselves, with the help of Fall and local musicians.
The music video is filled with dance, smiles and plenty of tongue-in-cheek moments -- in one section, a boy in a winter coat drags his luggage down a green, sunny path, then throws up his hands to the line, “J'arrive au Canada. Qu'est-ce que c'est?” (“I arrive in Canada. What is this?”)
“I wanted something to be powerful but positive,” said Fall. “We decided to do a song, they wrote it … they make the beat … and now they're really proud.”
Many of the children come to Quebec City carrying the baggage of trauma with them, having often come from war-torn areas. Fall says that dealing with those emotions as they emerge in the classroom is something that has to be done “one at a time.”
“They are incredible kids,” she said. “They came through war, they are strong … This is something rich for the country.”
Quebec has often been home to divisive rhetoric around race and immigration. The province passed Bill 21, which prevents government employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols on the job. The bill, which also affects judges, police officers and teachers, has been highly criticized by some who believe it is a racist backlash against Muslim women, aimed at pushing them out of jobs.
Educators are some of the biggest opponents of the bill. This week, around two-thirds of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) commissioners voted to contest the bill in court.
Fall said that when her children come to class, “they don’t have any walls. They play together, they cry together … We have to learn that from them.”
With a report from CTV's Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme