Multicultural liaison workers in the Vancouver School Board (VSB) are helping newly immigrated families and students integrate into the Canadian school system by “bridging the gap” between their culture and ours.

Susanna Song, along with 23 other multicultural liaison workers, works with families to help them communicate with teachers and principals about questions parents may have regarding their child’s progress in school.

“We help students with registration, course selection, parent-teacher conferences and progress and behaviour issues,” said Song, who works with Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking families. “They need a lot of help with translation, and communicating with the school, counsellors and teachers.”

Among the 24 multilingual workers, the team can speak a variety of Chinese and South Asian languages, as well as Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino and Khmer.

Through meetings, phone calls and workshops, the team members strive to help parents understand how the Vancouver school system works.

“We have different cultures and people think in different ways,” said Song. “Some people don't really care about plagiarism or cheating, and sometimes they try to please the counsellor or principals by bringing them gifts and not making appointments when they want to come talk to them.”

Multicultural liaison workers are responsible for working with families and helping them understand what is acceptable and what is not in the city’s school system.

“We do a lot of workshops to try to education them and tell them that in Canada, we do things this way,” said Song.

Team members also communicate with schools and help them by providing orientation for new students, identifying the needs of English as a second language (ESL) students and translating for teachers and counsellors.

“I think that if the school board were without multicultural liaison workers, they just wouldn't be able to function with a lot of families,” said Song. “A lot of them don't know who to call or who to talk to.”

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