The MLO program: helping newcomers navigate the education system

By Maria Teresa Garcia, Multicultural Liaison Officer (MLO) Program Manager.

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Created in 1991, OCISO’s Multicultural Liaison Officer (MLO) Program addresses the settlement needs of immigrant and refugee families in Ottawa schools.

The goal of the MLO Program is to help ensure the successful integration of newcomer children and their families. The program takes a three-pronged approach that involves the student, the family and the wider school community.

Teacher: “The MLO at our school has been helping so many families.”

The MLO Program serves more than 100 schools in Ottawa & delivers services in more than 15 languages, in partnership with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and the Ottawa Catholic School Board. MLOs offer information sessions & workshops for newcomer parents and students to orient them to the Canadian Education system.

MLOs also work with other service providers to support newcomer families in their neighborhoods, contributing to newcomer community engagement and connection.

The MLO Program addresses the information needs of newcomer parents and students. At the same time, MLOs support school administration to understand the needs of students and parents. In so doing, the program fosters dialogue and helps to build cross-cultural capacity and engagement.

Parent: “I appreciate very much your support. I feel more confident speaking with the teacher now.”

MLOs regularly provide clients with vital information and orientation sessions on Canadian norms, systems, public life and citizenship.

The information/orientation sessions are conducted in one-on-one, family & group formats. Group sessions are often delivered to affinity groups (language, age, country of origin, interests, and issue based).

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Orientations include detailed information on a variety of settlement related topics, such as education and language, housing, parenting, relationships, health care, money and finance, the justice system, recreation, employment and services available within the community.

Student: “Your conversation with my parents, helped me a lot. Now I can take the bus by myself.”

With the information received, participants are better able to navigate the education system in Canada, make informed decisions for their children, overcome barriers to integration, and develop a sense of belonging.

Newcomer Orientation Week

Each summer, OCISO’s youth program (YOCISO) and the MLO program combine to deliver Newcomer Orientation Week (NOW). This is a summer program that targets newly arrived newcomer youth, providing information & orientation about schools & community services and offering opportunities to improve language skills and participate in leadership and recreational activities.

Eligible students are those who will be attending a secondary school for the first time in Ottawa. The program is offered in the last two weeks of August. The schools identify participants from their lists of newcomer enrolment.

For more information on the MLO program, please contact Maria Teresa Garcia at

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