Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Rochester City School District (New York)

Program Name

Serving Refugee Students in the Rochester, NY Schools

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

  • Provide support to ease the transition of refugee students into our schools
  • Educate, engage and empower refugee families in the educational process
  • Serve as a resource to all school staff regarding on-going issues with refugee students
  • Improve the academic achievement of English language learners (ELL)

Program Description

The Refugee School Impact Program in Rochester has a number of components:

Academic Coaches/Home School Assistants: There are three Academic Coaches/Home School Assistants - one is a Somali refugee who speaks Somali,  Maay Maay, and Swahili, another  is a Sudanese refugee who speaks Arabic and Dinka, and the third is a refugee from Burma who speaks Burmese and Karen. The district is looking to hire a fourth Home School Assistant who speaks Nepali. These Home School Assistants serve as liaisons between the refugee families and the schools. They help out in a variety of ways, such as interpreting at parent-teacher conferences and parent events; assisting school nurses with health related concerns and interpreting in medical emergencies;  translating school documents; assisting students with class work and homework; helping to interpret registration documents and assisting parents, staff and students with registration and school questions;  and maintaining ongoing communication between the refugee families and schools.  As the number of schools across the district which serve refugee students has grown, the Home School Assistants have had to develop a regular schedule which they follow each week to ensure that they can address the needs of as many students and families from their language groups as possible.  They are available by cell phone in emergencies.

Summer and Mini Academies: A "Summer Academy" (called "Jumpstart") is held for refugee students for two weeks, after a three-day teacher training. The teachers are provided with professional development to learn strategies for instructing refugee students. The students receive intensive English and content instruction, and attend community field trips to familiarize themselves with local resources and landmarks. During the winter recess, a "Mini Academy" is held for refugee students for three days, after a one-day teacher training, which is an abridged version of the Summer Academy.

Parent Events: Parent events are held throughout the school year at various locations such as schools and community centers. Since many of the refugee parents take ESL classes at the nearby Family Learning Center they are invited to attend events at their children's schools.  Occasionally, transportation is provided to take parents from the FLC to their children's schools. Once there, they participate with their children in a variety of activities. These include lunch and translated meetings with teachers and school administrators on various topics. This provides them with an opportunity to ask questions and experience what goes on in their children's school during a typical school day. There are also parent events during the summer and winter Academies.

Interpretation/Translation: There is a BRIA Secretary (New York's Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance) in the administrative office who coordinates, records, and maintains the interpretation/translation requests and case notes on all eligible refugee students. The district subcontracts with the Department of Refugee, Immigration, and Employment Services (REIS) of the Catholic Family Center, the local refugee resettlement agency, to provide interpretation and translation services. The interpreters, along with the Home School Assistants, who are all former refugees, provide interpretation at parent-teacher conferences, school activities, and Refugee Academies and Mini-academies as needed. They also provide direct oral translations of NYS Assessments, and translate home-school communications, in both directions, as needed.

Resource Materials Used in Program

The Rochester City School District has created a number of professional development materials, including information regarding the cultures of new refugees.  A series of professional learning sessions focusing on the cultures and life experiences of the different refugee groups in Rochester is planned for Spring 2011 and has been ongoing since 2006.

New York's Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance (BRIA) has a Welcome to Our Schools Kit that is used, which includes translated DVDs that are use for staff training and student lessons for the Summer and Winter Academies as well as for orienting refugee families to the schools when they enroll in the district.

Groups Served by Program

There are approximately 1,200 school-aged children from refugee families in Rochester. The majority of recent refugees are arriving from Bhutan (Nepal), Burma, Cuba, Somalia, Iraq, and Eritrea.

Program Funding

The program is funded by a Refugee School Impact grant from New York's Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance (BRIA), which comes from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

  • 1 Program Coordinator
  • 3 Home School Assistants
  • 1 BRIA Secretary

The staff is primarily trained through meetings and conferences.  The staff attends monthly team meetings, regular meetings with the other NY Refugee School Impact Grantees, local refugee community events, meetings with the Catholic Family Center, and an Annual Refugee Symposium.

Program Evaluation

The program is evaluated through surveys and focused conversations with students and parents. Participants in the academies, professional development trainings, parent events, and school events are asked to fill out evaluation forms. The evaluations are reviewed by the district and recommendations are made to enhance the program. The staff is evaluated through formal and informal observations.

Program Outcomes

The summer and mini-academies are very well-received by the students and community alike and the attendance rate is nearly 100%. 

Additional Comments

Before the district had the contract with the Catholic Family Center to provide interpretation and translation, there were many missed opportunities in communicating with refugee parents.  All too often, students or older siblings were used to interpret meetings with parents and each school had the autonomy to handle interpretation/translation in whichever way worked best for them. Once the mechanism for providing interpreters through the Catholic Family Center was developed, it took time for teachers and school employees to recognize that the resource was there and to become accustomed to using it.  However, once the consciousness of the district's employees was raised, the demand grew and is now so high that the district is exploring additional resources to provide the interpretation/translation services that their non-English speaking students and families are entitled to.   

Program Contact

Raquel Rojas
Associate Director
Department of English Language Learners
(585) 262-8520

Program Dates

This program has been operating since Fiscal Year 2006 and is still operating as of March 2011.