For our frontline staff, much of the joy and rewarding part of their work is in seeing newcomer families thrive. And at times, supporting newcomer families have unintended consequences that make for pleasant surprises.

Susan Shi is a long-time CCS employee on the Settlement and Education Partnership of Toronto (SEPT) team, a joint venture between Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), the Toronto Public Library and five community agencies. SEPT provides information and referrals, including individual multilingual, culturally sensitive case-based settlement counselling and group information sessions for newcomer students and their parents with services in all GTA public and catholic schools. CCS is the lead agency in Scarborough, serving 193 schools.

One of the schools SEPT supports, an itinerant elementary school in Scarborough, recently reached out to CCS for support for an international student and their family from China who could not communicate well with staff, due to their lack of English knowledge. Susan, who is fluent in Mandarin, met with the family and learned that the student was facing challenges with school work due to the language barrier and needed additional support. The school had no existing English Second Language (ESL) classes and didn’t have the enrollment to support one. Meanwhile, the student had been receiving private tutoring, but at $60/hour, that option was proving expensive and obviously prohibitive over the long-term. Susan worked with the family and the school to bring in a teacher to provide one-on-one support to supplement the student’s regular classes.

The tutoring began last fall and the student has been doing well ever since! The teacher helped the student understand the work being assigned to him, and focused on teaching key vocabulary — especially words for math and science – and English language fundamentals. Susan continued to regularly check in on the student and family, familiarizing them with resources and connecting them with community resources.

The student’s mother, Cai Xiu Wang, was so appreciative of all Susan and the community had done to support her family that she wanted to give back in some way. She put the call out to family and friends back home in China for personal protective equipment and before you know it, 1,000 safety masks had been collected and mailed to her in Canada! She asked Susan to help her identify a local hospital to donate them to and they settled on one in Scarborough and hand-delivered 1000 masks to the hospital earlier in April.

“Susan’s knowledge of Mandarin and understanding of the school support system helped greatly because the student’s mother said she could talk to her and share her concerns about the situation,” said Manimolie Kanagasabapathy, SEPT Program Manager.

CCS delivers programs and services in thirty languages and this is a great example of the impact of the scope. It’s also nice to showcase the impact of our frontline staff — beyond the numbers we report — and their ability to foster connections that extend beyond the SEPT program and the schools they serve.

Susan still communicates with the family. Once school starts back up they hope the tutoring resumes – and so do we.