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November 20, 2015

Providing support and education for refugee children in the U.S.

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In the United States, where hundreds of thousands of people arrive each year seeking safety and opportunities for their families, education becomes one of the biggest challenges for refugee children.

Many refugees come to Houston, Texas because of the relative affordability and welcoming and supportive local environment. Many new refugee and immigrant children enroll at Las Americas Newcomer School, where they receive help learning English and getting accustomed to American culture.

Students at the school come from more than 32 countries and speak nearly 30 different languages at any given time, according to Principal Marie Moreno.

“Coming in with not knowing the language, not knowing the culture, it just takes them at least a year or two just to kind of acclimate,” said Moreno.

Students are grouped by English language proficiency when they arrive. Moreno invests in technology to help bridge the language barrier between students and teachers.

Many of the students wrestle with more than just language barriers. The emotional toll of whatever they experience before their arrival in the U.S. and homesickness make the transition even harder for some.

“I’m seeing kids who don’t know who they are,” said Sarah Howell, the leader of a team of social workers at the school. “Our refugee kids may not have ever had an identity.”

Most students only stay for a year before transitioning into traditional public schools in the area.

Moreno said she and the school are preparing for more refugee children expected to arrive in Houston in the coming months, many likely coming from Syria.


Vocab

English Language Learner – abbreviated “ELL,” students who are learning the English language in addition to their native language

integrate — bring (people or groups) into equal participation in or membership of society or an institution

Warm up questions
  1. What challenges do you think refugees face when they move to a new country?
  2. Should the U.S. welcome refugee children from war-torn countries?
  3. Describe your ideal school environment if you moved to another country where you didn’t speak the language.
Critical thinking questions
  1. Do you think more schools or programs need to be created to accommodate the growing number of refugee children? Explain.
  2. Why is it important for teachers to receive special training in order to best educate refugee students?
  3. What are some ways schools can make the transition for refugee children easier?
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