Canadian Schools Welcome Refugee Children: The 1000 Schools Challenge


Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.

Nelson Mandela

Schools are integral in helping newcomer children navigate their new communities. Over the next couple of years, in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, Canadian schools will receive students—who have lived through difficult conditions—and support their transition to Canadian society. Schools will also have an important role to play in educating Canadian students and families about Canada’s responsibilities to asylum seekers, and creating a positive, inclusive climate that will facilitate the successful integration of newcomers.

Schools Welcome Refugees is a grassroots initiative that asks school communities to do something more—specifically, to engage with Canada’s private sponsorship program and raise funds to sponsor refugee families coming to Canada.

Making sponsorship an option for school communities

The initiative was born last month when two schools in the west end of Toronto, Dewson Street Junior Public School and the Grove Community School, set out separately to sponsor a refugee family. Each raised over $35,000 from their communities in just a few short weeks, and took the first steps towards sponsorship. Now both of these schools have been matched with families seeking asylum, and are expecting those families to arrive within a few months.

There are 15,500 public elementary and secondary schools in Canada. Many schools are already set up to do considerable fundraising, making it possible to spread the financial commitment of refugee sponsorship across a larger number of supportive individuals. School communities are natural fits for refugee settlement activities—particularly where there are already strong resources like government-funded Settlement Workers in schools to provide support.

Challenging 1000 schools

We believe that 1000 schools across Canada could sponsor refugee families became the Dewson slogan. In September, the Dewson school community launched the “1000 Schools Challenge”, and developed a website that shares information about how to help schools get organized. It includes links to educational resources for teachers and families, frequently asked questions, and to-do lists and tools for organizers (surveys, pledge forms, logos).

The idea took off, and received considerable media coverage including on television, in the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star. Since going public in mid-September, Dewson has heard from school communities from Fredericton to Kamloops who want to get involved. Fifteen schools that we know of have already taken the challenge, and there are ongoing discussions in many more.

Bringing global citizenship curriculum to life

A key aspect of the 1000 Schools Challenge is how it brings curriculum expectations in the area of global citizenship to life in schools. Students have a chance to see and be involved in working together to make a difference locally in addressing a huge global problem—one that involves doing more than simply making a donation. Thinking one family at a time—talking about children like them in refugee camps—also helps to humanize the issues, emphasizing similarities rather than differences with those far away.

Older students are motivated to learn more about the conflict in Syria and the surrounding areas, and think about civic rights and responsibilities in a global frame. All students can engage actively in discussions about what it takes to make someone feel welcome, and what they can do to contribute to that outcome. It makes welcoming refugees and inclusivity more broadly part of the culture of the school.

If you are an educator or a teacher, we encourage you to connect with the 1000 School Challenge and see how you can get involved. There are many ways that parents, teachers, students, and school communities can take action.

How is your school preparing to welcome refugees?

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