School Challenges

When students have gaps in their formal education, they are often unfamiliar with the conventions of a school and classroom. They may have received some schooling in their country of refuge, but the learning environment would have been very different. They may not understand expected behaviours that are taken for granted. School staff may need to help students understand how to:

  • Use bathroom facilities
  • Wait in line or wait for one’s turn
  • Communicate with adults about emergencies, illnesses, absences, etc.
  • Stay in one place for long periods of time (a desk, a classroom, a school building)
  • Use school devices such as doorknobs, switches telephones, locks
  • Handle classroom materials such as writing instruments, notebooks, laptops

Certain occurrences in the school environment may trigger anxiety or behavioural reactions:

  • Dark corridors
  • People wearing uniforms or heavy boots
  • Loud or harsh talking
  • Bells, fire alarms or evacuation drills
  • Not understanding language or body language
  • Items associated with North American holidays such as masks and skeletons at Halloween

See more at Sample Threats Sample Triggers.

Students who have limited experience with formal schooling may also:

  • Work very slowly
  • Have difficulty recognizing relationships and applying patterns
  • Copy from other classmates or rely on other classmates for help
  • Be inconsistent with their work: one day they can do a task; the next day they have forgotten
  • Appear disorganized
  • Acquire listening and speaking proficiency more quickly than reading and writing

Adapted from: Students with Refugee Backgrounds: A Guide for Teachers and Schools (BC Ministry of Education) and from: Essentials for LIFE (Bow Valley College)

To see how these school challenges may be factors related to trauma see Socio-Emotional Supports.

To learn more about the socio-emotional impact of the refugee experience, see Refugee Journey.