NEWS
03/02/2016 19:00 EST | Updated 03/03/2017 00:12 EST

Retired B.C. teacher back in classroom helping refugee teens

A retired teacher in Burnaby is giving back to her community by volunteering to teach English to refugee high school students.

Patti Duggan has 37 years of experience — 25 years teaching ESL, and now, once a week, she teaches refugee teenagers in an after school program in the Burnaby School District. 

"I'm already seeing what they're getting out of it," said Duggan.

"Because I only see them one week at a time, I can see if we were counting words, how many more words they have this week than last week — they're just absorbing English at a phenomenal rate."

For refugee children, language is often one of the biggest barriers to integration in the school system. 

And while there are regular ESL classes for newcomers during school hours, the urgency to learn English becomes more acute for teenagers, who only have a limited number of years in the school system. 

"With high school students it's different because when they start it's based on the year they're born and it doesn't matter what level they are in English or other subjects, it's strictly based on the year they're born," said settlement coordinator Natalya Khan.

"So when they come to school they're placed in grade 11 so at this moment you want to give them as much support as possible so that by the end of grade 12 they are able to accomplish as much as possible."

On Mondays after school, Duggan spends one hour teaching students English phrases and words.

 'I just love it. I love the kids'

"I'm having fun, I'm the one who's getting [something out of it]. I go home thinking about what I can do next week," said Duggan. 

"I just love it. I love the kids, I love the laughter, and these guys are great laughers."

The dozen or so students in her weekly class are from Syria and many have only been in the school system for a few months. 

"Most of them come with educational gaps, they come from refugee camps, especially those who will start their school life in high schools, they will need as much support as possible so that they can graduate if possible from the high school and then continue their journey," said Natalya Khan. 

There are no tests, no marks and the teens say they feel relaxed in this environment.

The program will continue until the end of the school year.