Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘school for refugee children’ Category

Less than half of the children of immigrant parents are in preschool

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 4, 2013


The Heartland Alliance refugee resettlement agency in Chicago claims it doesn’t have the funding to help its refugee clients enroll their children in preschool. But Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries (now RefugeeONE) says kids who don’t go to preschool start school at a deficit because of the language. That’s why it began helping its refugee clients with preschool enrollment a year ago. Yet, the process of enrollment is confusing, time-consuming and difficult to navigate. [Note: article from 2009, apparently republished now] An article in Catalyst-Chicago explains:

Less than half of the children of immigrant parents are in preschool, one study found. Advocates say families need extra help navigating the pre-k maze.

When Krishna Rimal left a refugee camp in the South Asian nation of Bhutan for Chicago, he dreamed of a better education for his two children.

After the family arrived in December, Rimal’s son was quickly enrolled in 1st grade.  But his daughter, Anisha, who turned 5 after Sept. 1, has been unable to get into preschool. She is not eligible to enroll in kindergarten until next year.

Social workers at Heartland Alliance, a refugee resettlement agency that is helping the family with English classes and job training, told Rimal that free preschool is available, but they don’t have time to help him find one and fill out the paperwork.  Rimal doesn’t speak enough English to do it himself.

We are new, and we don’t know where to go,” says Rimal, 34, who lives in Edgewater.

Ashley Ginter, youth case manager at Heartland, has given the family some paper and crayons for Anisha, but says she can’t do more. Ginter has a caseload of 140 children from kindergarten to 12th grade.  “There would need to be another person, part time, to help with all the families with young kids,” she says. “We just don’t have the funding.”

Experts in early childhood education say that children of immigrants and refugees benefit tremendously from preschool. At the very least, they expand their English vocabulary at an early age. But their parents’ poor English skills and lack of awareness keep many of the kids at home.

Just 46 percent of children of immigrants were enrolled in preschool, compared to 63 percent of other children, according to a 2006 study published in Social Science Quarterly…

…Until a year ago, families being served by Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries weren’t offered help enrolling their children in preschool.  Amy Hill’s job as acting youth program coordinator didn’t include the younger children. But Hill says she was bothered by seeing several families with kids at home during the day. As a former teacher, she said she knew the kids “would already start school at a deficit because of the language.”  So she began investigating preschool programs.

Even for Hill, the process of getting an immigrant child enrolled in preschool was confusing and laborious. Not every elementary school offers preschool, so calls have to be made to the district’s early childhood education office to find out what is available in a certain neighborhood. Some programs fill up as early as the previous year.  More slots are available in half-day programs, but most families need full-day because of childcare issues. Applications can be complicated because families must prove that they meet income guidelines.

And sometimes, enrolling isn’t as simple as filling out some forms. Hill says that she had to call one school several times after turning in Head Start applications last spring for two children from Burundi and one from Burma. She eventually discovered that the school required all parents to meet in the fall for an interview process. Nobody was given an appointment, so many parents had to show up for several days to get an interview.

Knowing how much difficulty she had, Hill says families “on their own, would have never been able to do this.” Just 15 percent of the 120 kids on Hill’s caseload are preschool age, but she estimates spending a disproportionately greater amount of time working on their enrollment.

They need to make it more uniform throughout,” Hill says of preschool enrollment policies. “There needs to be one way to do it, and one schedule.”… Read more here

Posted in Chicago, children, failure to enroll refugee children in school, Heartland Alliance, RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), school for refugee children | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

State Dept. refugee bureau head to visit Portland

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 17, 2012

Assistant Secretary Anne C. Richard of the US Department of State’s refugee bureau will visit Portland, Oregon on Thursday. The head of the refugee bureau last visited Portland in September of 2010. A late notice of the visit is at the State Department’s refugee bureau website:

Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard will travel on July 19, 2012, to Portland, Oregon to participate in an event hosted by Mercy Corps to discuss the United States’ humanitarian aid and development strategy with the All China Youth Federation.

On July 20, Assistant Secretary Richard will meet with resettled refugees, local and state government officials, resettlement agencies and other community members involved in the resettlement of refugees.

Since 2009, Portland has welcomed nearly 2,700 refugees from 32 countries… Read more here

According to Assistant Secretary Richard’s account of that recent visit to Cleveland and Pittsburgh, this is what she learned from her travel:

…Local support is strong in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but gaps still exist in the program. 

Cleveland Dentist Hayat Ali told me how nearly every refugee she treats needs dental work. Very few refugees, however, are covered by dental insurance. Several people also told me about the need for interpreters to help those refugees who do not speak English to communicate with doctors, school officials and others. School officials in Cleveland told me how the No Child Left Behind Act did not exempt the test scores of recently-arrived refugee students from school statistics, which they feared was pulling down overall results for the schools. In both cities, limited bus service can prevent refugees from reaching English classes or jobs… Read more here

Posted in Ann Richard, Assistant Secretary of the PRM, children, Cleveland, ESL & ELL, language, language interpretation/translation, lack of, Pittsburgh, Portland, school for refugee children, schools, transportation | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Secondary migration putting fiscal pressure on schools in Lynn, MA

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 5, 2012

The mayor of Lynn, MA is putting out alerts about the fiscal pressure experienced by schools in her city, apparently due to refugee secondary migration. Secondary migration is refugees leaving the city they were initially settled in and, under their own volition, going elsewhere due to a whole number of reasons, e.g. to be near friends and relatives, to find a place that has more or higher paying jobs, to seek a less alien climate, to move to a place with a larger community of people from their ethnic group and/or group of national of origin, etc. The main problem here I think is that federal funds are insufficient to help schools impacted by refugee arrivals – the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s grant, known as the Refugee School Impact Program, doesn’t come close to meeting needs.

An article in The Daily News explains some basic details of the problem in Lynn, although it also shows that the mayor is taking a winding and confused course through government channels, even going to the UNHCR, and gets facts wrong about several of the federal agencies:

…[Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy’s Chief of Staff, Jamie Cerulli] said after getting bounced from office to office she finally spoke to Barbara Day with the state department’s office of Refugee Resettlement Administration for Children and Families.

She said for Fiscal Year 2011 they approved 25 refugees to come to the Lynn area,” Cerulli said. “She also said in 2012 it looks like there is approval for 28 … but that’s such a small number. If they’re not coming from there then where are they coming from?”

Cerulli said Day noted that if immigrants already have family in the area they are more likely to gravitate to the same area. Day was not available Thursday for comment and calls to the U.S. State Department of Health and Human Services were not immediately returned.

Cerulli said she plans to keep digging at the federal and state level to try and determine if Lynn has been officially deemed a haven city while also trying to determine exactly what drives immigrants to Lynn.

Kennedy has always emphasized her administration has gone the extra step to celebrate the ethnic diversity and welcome immigrants to the city and she said she would never deny a child or its family services… Read more here

Posted in Boston, capacity, children, funding, language, Office of Admissions, ORR, school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration, refugee, UN (United Nations) | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Documentary Film about The International Community School in Clarkston GA

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 22, 2011

There is a new documentary film from Clarkston, Georgia called A Place In The World about The International Community Schoola small charter school that brings together refugee children and teaches them alongside local American children so that they can learn from one another.


A Place In The World is a feature-length documentary about a small charter school called “The International Community School” (ICS). The school takes on an issue that plagues many communities: what to do for the refugee and immigrant populations whose children are falling behind in traditional public schools. ICS’ conclusion: placing these kids together with local American children will allow for a trade-off that, if nurtured and encouraged, will benefit both parties greatly. The school is comprised of about half refugee students, half local American kids. 

ICS is located in a small suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia – a place with its own divisive history of acceptance, integration, and social change. In a way, ICS acts as a microcosmic laboratory for how we can all get along. The community ICS serves was reported by the New York Times to be “the most diverse square mile in America” where over 60,000 refugees have been resettled. ICS’ refugee student body accurately reflects the global sociopolitical climate at any given time. If there is strife and violence somewhere in the world, there are most likely children from that place at ICS. Such a concentration of peoples, naturally, brings friction. The parents, coming from worlds apart, hold various ideologies, religions and values that come into conflict with one another. The children, whose identities are still being formed, see something very different. They are stretched between two worlds: one of cultural meshing, and one of traditional belief. Despite their many differences, all the families have something very much in common – they want a better life for their childrenRead more here


The International Community School is a K-6 Charter and IB World School, advancing the promise of America by cultivating voice, courage and hope in refugee, immigrant and local children in DeKalb County, Georgia… Read more here

Posted in Atlanta, children, cultural adjustment, education, left-wing, school for refugee children | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Refugee boy repeatedly brutalized at Philly school, complaints to school officials fall on deaf ears

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 21, 2011

Once again a school in Philadelphia is the subject of a case involving a refugee child beaten so badly that he had to go to a hospital. A year ago 30 Asian refugee children went to the hospital after just one bullying incident. Now, a Liberian refugee father claims that his pleas to a teacher and principal about the regular beatings of his 6-year-old son brought no relief, and that a phone call and later letter to the district superintendent also got no
An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer explains the story:

At first, Gbahtuo Comgbaye, a West African immigrant, was more puzzled than worried when his 6-year-old son started coming home from school with bruises on his chest and neck.

His concern turned to alarm on a mid-September morning as he helped his child, Menduawor, get dressed for the day. The boy tearfully asked, “If my friends beat me up, and hurt me, and wanted to kill me, would you do something about it?”

The story that emerged: Menduawor, a slight, soft-spoken boy, was being routinely beaten by three bigger first-grade classmates at Patterson School in Southwest Philadelphia. They told him, “We don’t like your name.”…

…Comgbaye described his growing horror as his son came home from school bruised and shaken day after day. He said that his pleas to the teacher and principal brought no relief and that a phone call and subsequent letter to the district superintendent got no response.

At the end of September, the boy was beaten so severely that his mother took him to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Hospital records show Menduawor was treated for chest and abdominal injuries, which physician Sarah Wood wrote were caused by blows from a person or object...Read more here

Posted in abuse, children, dangerous neighborhoods, Liberian, Philadelphia, safety, school for refugee children, schools | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugee student excels in school, though resettlement agency did not enroll him right away

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 6, 2011

A refugee student, now in college in Tucson, is excelling in school after making the honor roll and graduating from high school with a GPA above 3.5. Hussein Magale said that his refugee resettlement agency did not enroll him in school right away, so he had to enroll in school by himself. He took 10 courses, including advanced placement classes, in his first and only semester of high school in the US. An Arizona Daily Wildcat article tells his story:

…Hussein Magale, who fled Somalia with his family in 1992 because of the country’s civil war, lived in the city’s camp for most of his life. The biochemistry sophomore, who speaks three languages, began translating for Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian organization helping his camp, when he was a teenager…

…Magale said he always excelled in class and valued education because it was the only way out of the camp…

…To receive the Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education, or KCPE, Magale said he had to place in the top 100 out of more than 600 students in his group taking the high school entrance exam…He was number 23.

Magale said he continued to excel in high school until he arrived in Tucson in November 2009 through a United Nations resettlement program…

…Dualeh said the agency that brought him here did not enroll him in school right away. So Magale took the initiative, called around and filled out the paperwork. A few months after he left Kenya’s refugee camps, he was already taking classes at Catalina High School.

He took 10 courses, including advanced placement classes, in his first and only semester of high school in the U.S. He made the honor roll and graduated with
a GPA above 3.5…

…Magale’s GPA is still well above a 3.5, he’s part of the Arizona Assurance Scholars Club, captain of a soccer team… Read more here

Posted in Arizona, failure to enroll refugee children in school, school for refugee children, schools, Somali, teenagers, Tucson | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Refugees vote for resettlement locations with their feet

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 18, 2011

While the State Department and their private resettlement agency partners continue to resettle refugees to large urban environments – many in dangerous neighborhoods with expensive, roachy apartments and poor schools – refugees continue to out-migrate. Lynn, Massachusetts and Chicago’s north and northwest suburbs are two areas seeing fairly heavy secondary migration (Lynn is also a primary refugee resettlement site). NPR’s WBUR has the details about Lynn.

LYNN, Mass. — With ts cheaper rentals and abundance of public housing, the city of Lynn has become a magnet for families displaced by an ailing economy. This includes a growing number of immigrants — many of whom are refugees seeking a better life…

…the population has grown by almost a third. The city has become a popular destination because of its access to public assistance programs and to public housing.

Lynn is also one of the few cities in Massachusetts where the United Nations High Commission for Refugees relocates people from all over the world. Families who have endured war and famine come from countries as far away as Sudan, Bhutan and Iraq… Read more here

Chicago Public Media WBEZ explains the situation in the Chicago area. Although Chicago’s suburbs are home to established Iraqi populations, resettlement agencies like Heartland Alliance and RefugeeONE continue to resettle Iraqis into the intercity away from their already established relatives:

The Uptown neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side is an established hub for refugee resettlement. There are many agencies there, and refugees opt to live nearby. But recently more refugees bypass Chicago altogether and head to the north and northwest suburbs instead. Those communities are discovering these new populations in their schools, and suburban educators are having to adjust to meet the unique needs of their newest arrivals…

WANGERIN: We were seeing fewer and fewer Iraqis actually come to our office and avail of our services.

Greg Wangerin is with RefugeeONE, in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. He started to notice the difference in 2007, when the number of Iraqi refugees spiked. Now, Iraqis are the largest group of refugees coming to the Chicago area.

WANGERIN: We began to examine why, and we noticed that this was the circumstance, again because they were coming to reunite with relatives up in that area.

Chicago’s suburbs are home to established Iraqi populations. They came as a result of the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s, and Operation Desert Storm in the 90s. Wangerin says there are other reasons Iraqi refugees are heading to suburbs… Read more here

Posted in Boston, Chicago, dangerous neighborhoods, Heartland Alliance, Iraqi, RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration, refugee, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

After Nashville school district’s civil rights violation, foreign-language speaking students now desgregated

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 7, 2011

The Nashville school district is beginning to make progress on helping foreign-language speaking students learn English after a 2008 state Civil Rights Office violation for segregating the students to classes where they were unable to learn English from peers. An article in The Tennessean tells more.

…Throughout Metro Nashville Public schools, these stories are becoming more common as refugees from Africa and Asia and immigrants from Mexico and Central America show up at the schoolhouse gate. Nashville has more of these students than the state’s other three largest districts combined.

Students whose first language isn’t English were 15 percent of Metro’s public school enrollment in 2005. They’re 22 percent today. The majority require special services that, a decade ago, local educators barely knew existed. In 2008, after a state Office of Civil Rights violation over foreign-language speakers’ treatment, the district was forced to rethink its approach…

…Fixing violations

Lumping together foreign-language speakers for classes was an Office of Civil Rights violation, uncovered by a state official checking how Metro educated its immigrant students. The state allows nine models for teaching English Language Learners, and none allow a district to keep students together all day for longer than one year.

“The segregation of any students is wrong,” said Linda DePriest, assistant superintendent for instructional support, who now oversees the Office of English Learners. “Children learn just as much from their peers as their lessons. We deny them that if their peers lack English skills.”

The district hired office Executive Director Nicole Chaput-Guiziani from Massachusetts, and she brought fresh ideas to the program. This school year, all English Language Learners take at least some classes with their mainstream peers and can stay in Newcomer Academies only one year.

Metro lagged in getting students out of English Language Learning services within five years — the time it takes the average student to learn enough English to succeed in school — and services varied among schools, the George Washington University study noted…

…The hope is that more students will learn on the proper grade level for their age faster — another challenge Metro faces. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, a district fails if its English Language Learners don’t test on grade level in reading and math. From elementary to high school, the subgroup has missed benchmarks in Metro three out of the past four years… Read more here

Posted in Catholic Charities of Tennessee, children, language, Nashville, reform, school for refugee children, schools, teenagers, Tennessee | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What’s going on with Sudanese youth?

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 7, 2010

There is an interesting article in the Alternet about the Sudanese community in Nebraska. This is the single largest group of former Sudanese refugees in the US. Many of the Sudanese youth are fighting and joining gangs. Reasons for this disturbing trend include their families’ migration from a homeland in conflict, a difficult to adapt to (completely different from their own) US culture, parents who no longer discipline their children due to US laws against beating children, to youth dropping out of school after schools place them in grades way above their education level. In addition this second generation of immigrants has learned English much more rapidly than their parents and are able to manipulate their parents’ interaction with other members of the community, such as school officials and the police.

..early 8,000 miles away from the violence in Darfur [and southern Sudan], Sudanese residents of Omaha are experiencing their own share of turbulence in this unassuming Midwestern city. And they’re fed up with it…

…Bruce Ferrell, a retired Omaha police officer, is the chairman of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association estimates that there are three Sudanese gangs in Omaha right now (More claims there are fourteen.) Ferrell said the first gangs in Omaha began in 2004–MJ, a Nuer acronym for “Dog Pussy,” and Afrikan Pride. Others followed, like MOB, GBLOCK, 402 (the area code for eastern Nebraska), South Sudan Soldiers, and TripSet. Gang members are mostly Nuer and Dinka, and, predictably, live in low-income neighborhoods. They are the children of refugees or are refugees themselves, coming from camps in Ethiopia, Egypt, and beyond, but ending up adrift in the middle of America…

…”They’re doing graffiti, they’re wearing colors, they’re identifying by specific group names, they’re participating in crimes that are against rival Sudanese gangs. We’re seeing that more [in the past year].”… Read more here

I think what is good about South Sudanese is that they have a strong identity and pride in their culture. Sometimes pride can also be a downfall – for us all – as in the old proverb “pride does often go before the fall”, but I think what’s happening here is a generation who doesn’t yet know who they are. Are they South Sudanese or America? Trapped between? Its a hard road to travel.

Posted in alienation-isolation, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, men, mental health, Nebraska, Omaha, police, school for refugee children, South Sudanese, suicide, teenagers, teens, young adults | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Fredericksburg School Board asks Virginia governor to halt resettlement

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 23, 2010

It was two weeks ago that the Catholic Diocese of Arlington announced they were resuming refugee resettlement to Fredericksburg, VA. Now, the Fredericksburg School Board has written a letter to the governor of Virginia asking him to halt resettlement to the city. A column by Emily Battle in the The Free Lance-Star gives more details.

Last week, Chelyen Davis and Kelly Hannon reported on a meeting the city School Board had about how the schools check on students’ residency status in Fredericksburg. They mentioned a letter the School Board sent last week to Gov. Bob McDonnell, urging him to help them stem the flow of refugees to the city’s small school system…

…In their letter, School Board members say they have been informed that 100 refugees are to be resettled in this region in the coming year, with half of them to be placed within the city limits. Because Fredericksburg has a smaller budget, fewer schools and fewer taxpayers than its neighboring localities, some city officials have tried to make the point to the resettlement office that the burden of this high-needs population should be more equitably spread among larger, wealthier localities.

The School Board makes some similar points in its letter to the governor, which you can read here

…The board members close by saying, “This locality simply cannot support them,” and urging the governor to encourage the resettlement office to help place refugee families in localities better equipped to meet their needs.

What, if any effect this letter has remains to be seen. Board members noted in their letter that past requests made directly to the agency responsible for resettlement have been followed by an increase in the flow of refugees to the city. Read more here

This issue tends to be most pronounced during recessions when the unemployment rate is high. During non-recession times the refugees are able to quickly join the workforce and offset the extra costs of schooling their kids with their contributions to the tax base.

Posted in capacity, Catholic, Catholic Diocese of Arlington, children, faith-based, fredericksburg, school for refugee children, schools, unwelcoming communities | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »