Ask Mansour Hamandoush what he likes about Canada and the answer is simple: his school and his learning.
"I go to W.P. Bate School and I have a lot of work and that work makes me happy for every people who came to Canada," the Grade 6 student says.
"I like to go to school that has different languages and you can learn different languages. Canada has a lot of people and a lot of different languages. It is hard to read and write when you all move to Canada and I know English is hard."
Mansour is one of 65 Syrian refugee students from prekindergarten to Grade 8 who enrolled at W.P. Bate Community School after their families arrived in Canada in early 2016 as part of the federal government's Syrian refugee resettlement program.
In total, Saskatoon Public Schools welcomed 200 Syrian students during the first three months of 2016, most of whom had no English language background, but the arrival of almost one-third of those students at W.P. Bate presented a particular challenge for school and division staff.
"Last year we were presented with the unique opportunity to introduce 65 students within a six-week time frame," Principal Jody Glines told the Board of Education during its Jan. 17 meeting. "I wish I could have brought the other 50 staff members and packed them all into this room because truly it was a team effort."
Glines expressed thanks for the support W.P. Bate and its staff continues to receive from the school division's central office and trustees, as well as the efforts of the school's superintendent and the English as an Additional Language team.
"The continued support remained throughout the year and I want to express our appreciation to the previous board, and ongoing with the current board, for all of the supports that were put in place and continue to be put in place," he said.
The Syrian students joined an already diverse school community at W.P. Bate. With an enrollment that includes students from 70 nationalities and with approximately 20 home or first languages spoken by those students, the newest group of new Canadians found a welcoming school.
Mansour and classmates Mohamad Al Soua and Jamil Laban have embraced their school and their learning and are "showing their greatness," English as a Second Language teacher Alison Uitti told the board.
"Not only have they progressed incredibly in their academics, they have also become leaders in their classroom in terms of their behaviour and their enthusiasm," she said.
The past year has been one full of new experiences but, like kids anywhere, the opportunity to make new friends and be part of a school community has played an important role in helping them adjust to a new country and city.
"In Canada I like to go with my friends to the school to play dodgeball. The first time I went there I didn't know how to play and after I know I like it a lot because I see new people," Jamil said. "I like to go to the school because I like it a lot. It has different languages and different people and different friends."
Mohamad Al Soua cites going bowling and shopping with his family, along with seeing a moose and a beaver, as some of the experiences he has enjoyed since arriving in Saskatoon.
"I miss my friends from Syria. My new friends are Jamil and Mansour," he said. "I can go anywhere in Canada. I feel good in Canada."
Wafaa Al Soua, Mohamad's mother, said her family is thankful for the opportunity to come to Canada and leave behind the unrest in their home country. She expressed her appreciation for the education and care the children are receiving.
"And thank you for W.P. Bate Community School and thanks to the team and Mrs. Uitti and Mr. Glines," she said with a smile.
School staff say the students have made significant progress in terms of English language acquisition and becoming part of the school community, and with a full year in his new home and school Mansour Hamandoush is straightforward in describing how the move to Saskatoon has affected his life and the lives of other Syrian refugees.
"Canada is a fun country because you can go where you want to – no one can stop you," he said.
"When we come new to Canada and people ask us where we are from what I say is everything in my country is going down. I like Canada and I'd like every people to come to Canada. Not just the Syrian people – every people in the world come to Canada. It's fun in Canada and you can do a lot of work and this work makes you happy. You can feel good in Canada."