Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lesson Plans

How Michigan schools welcome refugees from Syria and Yemen

June 13, 2019

Full Lesson


Directions: Read the summary, watch the two videos and answer the discussion questions below. You may want to turn on the “CC” (closed-captions) function. If time permits, watch the full video, “You Are Welcome Here: Supporting the Social and Emotional Health of Newcomer Immigrants” (21m:10s), to learn more about the Dearborn school community via Colorín Colorado based at PBS station WETA in Washington, D.C.

Summary: According to the United Nations, there are more than 65 million refugees worldwide who “are fleeing war, disasters, and persecution.” In Dearborn, Michigan, many of the students in the Dearborn Public Schools are refugees who have come from countries embroiled in devastating civil wars like Syria or Yemen. Students have experienced family separation, trauma and difficult journeys to get to America. In the video above, Norieah Ahmed, the Child Accounting Secretary at Salina Elementary School in Dearborn, Michigan, talks about her role in welcoming newcomer immigrant families to the school. In a second video featured below, teacher Diana Alqadhi shares a story that her students from Yemen told her about a 12-hour trip they took standing on a cattle raft, as they were leaving their homeland.

Discussion questions:

1. Essential question: What can schools do to support immigrant and refugee students?

2. How does school secretary Norieah Ahmed show empathy?

3. What are class activities that help students develop greater empathy for new immigrants to America?

4. How can school help refugee students who endured harsh conditions in their homeland?

5. Media literacy: Refugees often flee their homeland by foot or sea. What are some other news stories you’ve heard about people fleeing violence or catastrophe in other countries? What dangers did they face during their journey?


Extension activities:

1. In 2016, the U.S. allowed nearly 85,000 refugees to settle in the U.S. In 2018, the number dropped to 45,000, although from October 2017 – September 2018, less than half of that number were actually admitted. The Trump administration announced plans in the fall of 2018 to further reduce that number to 30,000 for 2019. How does a country decide how many refugees to accept? What is your reaction to the current levels?

2. Read about the refugee vetting process in the NewsHour article You asked: How are refugees vetted today? What are measures used in the vetting process? Which measures are effective? Which are ineffective? Explain.

3. According to the UNHCR, the United Nations’ Refugee Agency, more than 27,000 refugees and asylum-seekers currently live in Djibouti. Most came from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Yemen. Many more have passed through the country. Look at a map of the Middle East and the Horn of Africa to find those countries. What do you notice about their physical proximity? What are the issues in each of the countries that are driving people out? What opportunities and challenges does this situation pose for Djibouti?

4. Related resources:

Dig Deeper:

1. Read PBS NewsHour Classroom’s piece Teacher Voice: The hard work of softening resistance to trauma-informed teaching by Melissa Monzyk, an English teacher at Ritenour High School in St. Louis, Missouri.

2. Refugee by Alan Gantz is about three young refugees from different backgrounds who go on a difficult journey together and maintain hope throughout. See the scholastic discussion guide.

For monthly updates containing teacher resources on Election 2020, click here.

Sign up for short education highlights from the PBS NewsHour here.