To ensure a safe and caring environment for children and youth
World Relief DuPage/Aurora
Refugee Youth Program of World Relief DuPage/Aurora, Illinois
Our Refugee Youth Program's overall goal is to help refugee children and youth succeed in their new community. We do so by working to bridge the cultural and linguistic gaps that often exist between refugee families and local schools and by involving the local community in providing extra-curricular activities to refugee students.
This program addresses refugee families' need for orientation to the local school system, as well as preparing the schools to fully serve refugee families. The school systems in refugees' countries of origin are often very different - for example, parents often expect teachers to make all decisions concerning their child's education and are not directly involved with the schools - so that parents have a great deal to learn about the system here. In addition, school staff often do not know about their refugee students' cultures and backgrounds, including the trauma of flight and potential lack of formal education and literacy. Regarding extra-curricular activities, refugee students and their families are typically unable to access youth programs in the DuPage and Aurora communities, because most after-school clubs in the area require transportation, charge fees, and are designed for students who have prior schooling, speak English or Spanish, and have some basic literacy skills. Refugee parents often lack the confidence to communicate in English, find detailed program applications daunting, and are unaware of available community activities.
In FY05, under this initiative, World Relief supported staff at 26 schools, and more than 240 new arrivals, average age 12, from 18 different countries.
World Relief resettlement programs have always assisted refugee families with school registration during the first two weeks following their arrival, and World Relief DuPage/Aurora received a state Refugee Children School Impact Grant (RCSIG) to begin a Refugee Youth Program in 1999. Initial services included helping refugee students and their families adjust to American schools and providing supportive services for school staff through consultations and trainings. Services have since expanded to providing after-school programs for refugee children in grades K-12, assisted by adult volunteers and mentors.
In summary, services provided through the Refugee Youth Program include:
- School registration assistance and orientation for refugee families, and on-going support for school-related issues
- Training, consultation, and on-going support to school staff with regard to refugee children, youth, and their families
- Seven weekly after-school youth clubs, including 5 tutoring clubs, 1 soccer club, and 1 art club - Volunteer tutors and mentors
- Additional extra-curricular activities, such as field trips to Six Flags Great America, Chicago Fire soccer games, the Brookfield Zoo, etc.
Our Youth Program staff begin serving refugee families within two weeks of their arrival in the United States. We establish relationships and build trust with refugee families and local schools by initially assisting with student registrations. We foster greater understanding between families and schools through ongoing orientation and mediation and by offering support and training opportunities for school staff. We began three of our seven after-school clubs primarily to help meet the needs of Somali Bantu and Liberian students with little or no formal education. In addition to working on phonics and math skills, the after-school clubs emphasize classroom behavior (sitting still, raising your hand, holding a pencil, identifying colors and key phrases such as "May I go to the bathroom, please?"). In addition to teaching basic skills for success, these weekly after-school clubs provide a nurturing environment where students can learn and grow through on-going relationships with adult volunteers and mentors.
Our after-school clubs rely heavily on community support for volunteers and needed materials. College Church, Wheaton College, Lowell School, St. David's Church, and IMSA donate classroom and gym space in their facilities. Community Art Partners provides art supplies and group instruction at Art Club. The Chicago Eagles contribute coaching, volunteer training, and transportation for the Soccer Club. Wheaton College allows student leaders to drive their vans for club transportation, provides training for student tutors, and offers course credit to Education majors who volunteer with our clubs.
Wheaton School District 200 has donated tutoring materials, school supplies, and offered advice. Various Girl Scout troupes, PTA's, and church groups regularly donate school supplies, backpacks and clothes. In August 2005, a Naperville church recruited members to purchase new backpacks and grade-appropriate school supplies and then deliver them to 85 refugee students.
Our Youth Program serves local schools and districts, refugee families, and school-aged refugee children (grades K-12) in the following cities in the west Chicago suburbs: Addison, Aurora, Carol Stream, Glendale Heights, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Villa Park , West Chicago, Wheaton, and Winfield.
Our Refugee Youth Program was originally funded through the RCSIG grant. We now receive additional funding from United Way, DuPage Community Foundation and various churches and donors. We hope to continue expanding our program's funding in order to meet the needs of a growing refugee student population.
Our Refugee Youth Program staff come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, including: overseas cross-cultural experience, elementary and secondary education, ESL instruction (adults), social work and international relations. Basic requirements for staff include a BA from a 4 year university, strong communications skills, and cross-cultural or experience with youth are strongly preferred. Background checks are completed on all potential staff and volunteers.
Staff are trained concerning World Relief's international and domestic work. We focus training on the complex dynamics of refugee resettlement, including: initial resettlement functions, Public Aid requirements, health screenings and related medical issues, adult employment challenges, mental health adjustment challenges for parents and youth. Staff are also trained on local school enrollment requirements and community dynamics between schools, agencies and refugees. Staff learn how to recruit, train, and support volunteers who are serving in our programs. Training includes "job shadowing" as often as possible, where new staff accompany existing staff members on various appointments and home visits for the first days or weeks of their employment.
With the addition of regular, weekly activities over the past 3-4 years, the quality and frequency of service we offer to refugee students has dramatically increased. Informal feedback from families demonstrate satisfaction with these new programs. When new programs start, youth program staff typically make home visits to explain the program details to parents and have permission slips signed. During these visits, staff often ask the parents what they think of the program and why they'd like their child to attend.
Consistent student attendance demonstrates continued student and family interest in our programs. It also means that each present student has the opportunity for homework assistance/tutoring and to spend time with a caring adult or older student mentor. These interactions provide encouragement and build the confidence that refugee students need to succeed in their new schools and communities.
We intend that refugee students in our program will achieve academic progress and experience healthy social and cultural adjustment through a relationship with an adult or student mentor. School personnel have noted improved classroom performance - both academic and behavioral - from students enrolled in our program.
Tutor logs are kept in some of the after school clubs. These logs indicate what types of activities have been worked on and/or completed. The logs can be used to loosely track student progress and provide a guide to future tutors.
WRD/A has not only held consistent student attendance, but we have increased our numbers of students along with the number of our weekly activities. This expansion has provided students with more opportunities to connect and develop relationships with a mentor. Tracking volunteer mentor participation through the use of sign-in sheets is used to indicate how invested the mentors are in the students lives, thus tracking the development of the mentor/mentee relationship.
In 2006, we are also implementing a new student evaluation (most likely to be performed by the Club Coordinator) that will allow for student behavior and academic performance to be rated (on a numeric scale) when a student first enters a club, and then once again at the end of the year. With the new evaluation measures, we'll have more tangible data to measure student improvement.
We have developed strong community partnerships that support all aspects of our Youth Program. We depend on committed volunteers from many churches, schools, and local agencies to operate each club session (see "Resource Materials", above). Additional financial support comes through private donations from individual community members and volunteers. Increased United Way funding enabled us to hire an After-School Club Coordinator and pay for student transportation, basic club materials, and additional field trips. For the past two summers, our program and its partners were able to leverage enough resources to offer an eight week summer school program for 30 - 40 of our most vulnerable children (primarily Somali-Bantu and Liberian students). We are including a case example to indicate the complexity of some of the needs that we address:
A 12 year old Somali Bantu girl, the oldest of 6 children, arrived in the U.S. in August 2004. We (WR Youth Services) enrolled her in 6th grade, according to her age. We later learned that this student had suffered developmental delays (mild to moderate mental retardation) from birth and had also experienced trauma at various points during her life in Somalia and Kenya. After one semester in a regular middle school context, we talked to the school about her progress and her parent's concerns. We began a series of meetings to determine if her minimal progress was her educational background (she was in a special school in Kakuma, Kenya), cultural adjustment challenges, past trauma, or language barriers. One of the family's volunteers played a key role in this process by taking the student to several medical appointments to have appropriate evaluations and tests. World Relief provided a Somali interpreter at many of the meetings, which allowed the school to conduct a lengthy health history and detailed parentinterviews. The school district's special education team finally determined that this student was eligible for special services, primarily based on the medical documentation. This year, the student attends a special school for students with various developmental delays and learning disabilities. She is in a middle school classroom that focuses on life skills....activities are adapted to meet the student's needs (i.e. they use a lot of picture cards for communication and to learn vocabulary). At a parent-teacher conference this fall, her teacher said that she felt confident that the student was now in the appropriate placement for her age, skills, and abilities. That was very encouraging for all of us to hear after the many meetings, interviews and evaluations throughout the previous spring semester. When asked about their goals for their child, her parents replied "for her to be healthy and educated," which we all agreed is what most parents would wish for their children.
This program began in July 1, 1999; it is still operating in 2006.