Association introduces new programming

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Nova Scotia in March 2020 and shut the province down, society was forced to scramble and adapt to a provincewide lockdown that lasted for months. For the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), it had a head start because it already offered a lot of its programming online.  

“Once the pandemic hit and restrictions came, we kind of went into a superdrive, moving more and more of our programs to virtual delivery,” says CEO Jennifer Watts. 

In pre-pandemic times, ISANS programming was a mixture of in-person classes and online learning. The latter played a key role, given it was used to help newcomers before they even arrived in Canada, as well as provided programming options for people who lived in a part of Nova Scotia where they couldn’t access in-person classes. 

Watts says online programming is highly effective, but can have its limitations, especially for people with beginner literacy skills who find it challenging to navigate online learning. She says online learning doesn’t have the “casual and unplanned conversations” that help with people’s language acquisition. 

Henglie Yu is one of the people who has been taking English classes from ISANS online. Originally from Shanghai, Yu, his wife and their three children came to Nova Scotia last September. He started his twice-a-week classes in January, which were conducted via Zoom. Yu says the downside was missing out on the personal connections that would be made in person.  

“Making friends is not so easy [online],” he says.  

Yu lives in Dartmouth, N.S., but works as a consultant for Ocean Pride Fisheries, a Lower Wedgeport, N.S.-based company focused on sea cucumbers. He’s tech savvy and doesn’t struggle with online programming, but he’s looking forward to the resumption of some things being done face-to-face. 

Once restrictions ease in Nova Scotia, ISANS will maintain a blended delivery model.  

“I think newcomers, as well as staff, appreciate that,” Watts says. “There will always be that role for having people in person and having one-on-one or group discussions that really strengthen language acquisition.” 

One of ISANS’ newest programs is Youth Explore! The program helps immigrants and refugees between 16 and 25. The program targets a demographic youth who are struggling to adjust to life in Canada or may not meet some of the eligibility requirements of ISANS’ other programs, Watts says.  

“It’s a whole series of exploring cultural norms, getting some skills and experience in terms of digital literacy and resume writing, and also doing the exploration of, ‘What do I see as my pathway in terms of how I want to be integrated into the community and the job market?’” she says. 

Energy conglomerate Emera is providing $300,000 in funding for the pilot program. Besides financial support, Watts says the company will provide virtual presentations, networking sessions, job shadowing, and mentoring to participants. Watts is thankful for the support and is especially looking forward to the opportunity the program will have to expose young women to non-traditional jobs. 

Richard Woodbury

Richard Woodbury

Richard writes for both local and national publications and his work has been published by Reuters, Metro and Enterprise Magazine.

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