Having authentic learning experiences is something RancheView School prides itself on.

On Thursday (June 7) grade 5 and 7 students were privy to the swearing in of 56 new Canadian citizens, thanks to an initiative brought forward by Bill Belsey who teaches Social Studies.

Belsey shares with Canadian studies being a big part of the grade 5 and 6 curriculum he thought what better experience than to host a citizenship ceremony. "I asked my students if they thought we should apply to the Canadian government for the honour of hosting an actual citizenship ceremony and the kids were very enthusiastic about it, as was the principal. So we put forward an application to the Government of Canada Immigration Department and they came out to meet the kids, and myself and tour the school to see if it would be suitable and they were impressed."

The department took a look at all the applications from places wishing to host a ceremony and when RancheView was picked, the students were told in person. Belsey used the opportunity as a great learning experience for the students. "They did a lot of homework. I got copies of the booklet that new Canadians use to study and then I created a test based on the information that was in the booklet. The kids actually worked their way through their version of the test and so they were pretty well versed in all the aspects of what it means to be a Canadian."

In some cases, it took five years for the new citizens who originated from countries such as Syria, Egypt, England, Iran and South Africa to be sworn in officially as Canadians. "Our kids, for the most part, are born in Canada and so there are a lot of things that we as Canadians take for granted and part of the reason for holding the ceremony is I didn't want the kids to take being Canadian for granted in any way. By holding the Citizenship Ceremony they could see on the faces of those who chose Canada as their new home how important it was to them and all the sacrifices they made to make the change in their lives."

New Canadian, Usman Vahidy shares he had been waiting a long time. "I landed here in August 2008, it's been almost ten years and it has been a very wonderful ten years and a very blessed ten years, and it feels amazing... I am very grateful."

Vahidy, who now calls Calgary home, was born and raised in Saudi Arabia before being encouraged by Abdul Shah to come to Canada. "I landed in Kamloops, BC and worked in Kamloops and Fort St. John, BC before coming to Calgary."

For Vahidy, becoming an official Canadian means a lot. "It gives me a sense of belonging; I feel like I belong already but this just makes it official more than anything. I look forward to contributing more, voting and being more part of the community going forward."

The students who took part in the ceremony were pretty blown away, says Belsey, and had their eyes opened. "They had a chance to talk to some of the new Canadians and while the didn't divulge everything, they certainly let the kids know that some of them had come from some pretty bad situations and to be able to have Canada as their new home meant everything to them."

Belsey told the students something his father shared with him long ago. "He said Bill, you know you've won the lottery. And, I said what dad, what do you mean? We're not a wealthy family...and he said no you don't understand, you were born Canadian. I repeated that same thing with my own students; I wanted them to have an appreciation for how incredibly lucky they are. They were fortunate enough, as my dad would say, to win the lottery and be Canadian and so I hope they take that away."

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