The world meets in Hazlet

By: Danica Lorer February, 2014

The village of Hazlet in southwestern Saskatchewan has become an international cultural intersection point. In 2005, the school had only 39 students and its future was uncertain. Reaching out to cultures around the world has injected a new life into the community.

“The international program probably saved our school and it brought a vibrant spirit back," says Lindsay Alliban, Hazlet's economic development officer. Early in the program she opened the classroom to international students and is now an international recruiter.

The idea for the Chinook International Program at Hazlet school came to the school's principal, Kristy Sletten while she was on maternity leave nine years ago. "I had the opportunity to study the school from an outside perspective. I could see that the enrolment trend was not positive and I knew that we would have to get creative to sustain the school," says Sletten, who has seen the number of local students enrolled nearly double to 75.

The program has welcomed more than 80 international students in its first seven years. "When growing up in rural Saskatchewan, you have a fairly monochromatic experience in terms of exposure to other cultures. This program has brought in kids from over 20 countries and has truly created more acceptance for other cultures within our community," says Sletten. "Probably the biggest difference that I have seen is in the students who have graduated and left Hazlet. Once they join the world they become well aware of the value of their exposure to all of the various cultures that they have seen at a young age. Many of them comment on the ease in which they have been able to adapt to the bigger multicultural world that many urban Saskatchewan residents enjoy."

Students in the program are in grades 10 to 12. Aside from classes, they take part in sports, attend community groups, volunteer, take class trips and become immersed in prairie culture. Students learn about the culture of Canada and share their own culture during international nights with food, music and information booths.

The difference in English language skills can be a challenge, and Alliban gives credit to teachers for their hard work. Sletten says, "Recently, some friction has developed because at times the Canadian students feel less important than the international students. So we need to balance how each group is treated.” The size of the community can cause anxiety for students from large cities, but offers something truly unique. "The small town experience is so different for these kids than what they would get in a city, because here they become part of the bigger picture. They get to meet everyone in the community and everyone is interested in their story," she explains.

Students leaving the program have forged lifelong friendships with the people of Hazlet. "Hazlet may be small, but its impact on the world has been significant," says Sletten. Community is created through the program and sustained by travel and technology. According to Alliban,"our community has one hundred people, or three hundred people within our surrounding area, but there are people across the world who feel part of our community.”