Empowering Newcomer Students: Inside the Friends of Simon Program

January 24, 2024

Friends of Simon, an award-winning program, plays a crucial role in recruiting, preparing, and assigning university students as literacy tutors in the Lower Mainland, with a special focus on assisting newcomer K-12 students. In a conversation with Amrit Cojocaru, Program Coordinator, we delved into the program's impactful initiatives that not only foster literacy skills and community engagement but also hold particular relevance to this year's theme.

It's noteworthy that some of the participating students, driven by the harrowing experiences of fleeing war in their home countries, have sought refuge in Canada. This backdrop adds a poignant layer to the program's significance, emphasizing its role in supporting those who have faced adversity and providing them with essential tools for integration and success in their new community.

Q: Can you provide a brief overview of your background and what led you to join the program? 

A: I am a PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Education in Equity Studies. I am also a term lecturer in the Faculty of Education and one of the coordinators for the Friends of Simon program. Prior to working at SFU, I was a teacher in the Surrey School District. 

I first heard of Friends of Simon as an elementary teacher in the Surrey School District and a member of the school community that Friends of Simon was supporting. Students in my school community were attending FoS at the local high school and I can remember how excited they were to attend. As a teacher, it was immediately evident how much of an impact FoS was having on the students and school community. 

More recently, I was working as an RA on a research project about community engaged teaching and learning and looking for examples of projects that exemplified the principles of community engaged teaching. I realized that Friends of Simon was a great local example of community engaged teaching in action.

Q: In what ways does the program equip and empower university students with the knowledge, values, attitudes and skills needed to become effective tutors and positively impact newcomer K-12 students?  

A: The undergraduate students who are hired as tutors attend training sessions throughout the year. We cover all sorts of topics such as literacy and numeracy support, classroom management, relationship building, mental health and wellness just to name a few. Faculty, community members and alumni tutors all contribute to these training sessions.  

Q: How does the program utilize education to address the broader impact of violent conflicts and discrimination, transcending geographical, gender, race, religion, and political boundaries? 

A: At Friends of Simon, our mandate is to support newcomer youth in an afterschool program. Many of the students we work with have come from all over and many have refugee experiences. The tutors we employ often also have migration experiences themselves and have shared languages with the students they tutor. We try to create spaces where students are supported in their resettlement journey and have an opportunity to practice, learn, and belong in their new communities. 

Q: How can students get involved and become tutors? 

A: Reach out! Follow us on Instagram! We hold hiring drives twice a year and would love to meet you.