Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Catholic Charities, Migration and Refugee Services of Louisville and Jefferson County Public Schools

Program Name

Transitional Schooling Program, Louisville, KY

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

The goal of the Transitional Schooling Program is to effectively accommodate the growing population of non-English-speaking refugee children who have had little-to-no formal school experience or who have had their schooling interrupted by the events of their refugee experience. From August 2004 - January 2005 of the school year, the English as a Second Language (ESL) department of Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) has enrolled 750 students. Of these, 133 are refugee children. These particular children are from one or two parent families, most with 5-15 children per family. The majority of these families come from agrarian societies and impoverished circumstances. Most of them have lost the extended family and community that they have traditionally depended on for advice and support, and many have experienced violence during their flight and stay in refugee camps. These families are currently adjusting to immersion in a new culture and to a daily life that is vastly different from their experiences in their countries of origin or countries of transition. Many of these refugee children are from ethnic groups that do not have a written language, and the school system in their home country is quite different from the public school system here in the United States. Jefferson County Public Schools are challenged not only to teach these refugee children in the classroom, but are also aware of the need for a holistic approach, including addressing the additional needs of their families, in order to ensure these children's successful transition to their new schools.

Program Description

The local school district identifies the children targeted by this program when they first arrive through a testing and interview process. Once identified, these children are referred into the Transitional School Program, which operates within the same building as the Catholic Charities ESL program. The program operates during the public school hours, from 8:30am-2: 30pm. Children and parents are also encouraged to attend an evening school program operated at the same location, at least two nights a week. Each school day these students follow a schedule that provides cultural orientation and teaches social skills and basic literacy skills. The program lasts 2-6 weeks, depending on the child's progress . Once the child has successfully completed the program, she or he is placed into a regular program for ESL students.

Resource Materials Used in Program

The Catholic Charities Education staff, in collaboration with Jefferson County Public Schools, have developed a full curriculum for this program. The curriculum consists of different subjects geared toward assisting refugee children to successfully transition into a Jefferson County Public school ESL Program. The following are four examples of these subjects, with sample activities/concepts listed under each.

School Preparation:

  • Life skills (hygiene, school preparation, nutrition, etc.)
  • Asking questions to establish prior knowledge
  • A class-wide, or group-wide, activity
  • School age appropriate activities, family trees, poster making
  • A Project-based, individual or small group activity
  • For 8-12 year olds this often includes role playing to familiarize students with the adults in a school, they can role play being a teacher, a school nurse, etc.
  • Practice at home
  • Report back to class

Day at school:

  • Basic Protocol (School Logistics)
  • Expected behaviors and how they are different in different areas (e.g. library vs. cafeteria vs. the playground)
  • How to use facilities within the school (i.e. restrooms, cafeterias, gyms, classrooms, and playgrounds)
  • School rules
  • How different schools have different rules
  • Riding a bus

Social Skills & Cultural Orientation:

  • How to visit a school
  • Checking in at the office
  • Understanding school personnel
  • How to deal with problems in school
  • How to work with others in classrooms
  • How to handle different class dynamics
  • Different ideas or perceptions of space
  • What body language is acceptable
  • Understanding others' cultures

After school:

  • Parent Connectivity (Parenting classes, PACT)
  • Teach parents about life skills to use at home
  • Teach parents about Social Amenities & Cultural Competencies
  • Teach parents about homework
  • Teach parents how to address school personnel

The complete curriculum can last up to 6 weeks, depending on the outcomes of student evaluations (including language assessment) provided by the Assessment/Placement staff of Jefferson County Public School. If they progress quickly, students may be placed in their school in less than 6 weeks.

Groups Served by Program

Refugee families and school-aged children in the Jefferson County Public School District.


Program Funding

The Office of Refugee Resettlement's Refugee Children School Impact Grant and Louisville Metro Youth Development Funds.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

The Transitional Schooling Program is staffed by the following: Assessment/Placement Staff from Jefferson County Public Schools, a teacher for the program, an evaluator from Jefferson County Public Schools from the JCPS planning and resource unit, and two program coordinators, one from Catholic Charities, the other from the Jefferson County Public Schools. Trainings offered in conjunction with this program for educators in the Jefferson County Public School District include: "How to enroll a refugee or migrant child", how to assess language, and English language acquisition workshops (these training are available to staff on a weekly basis), and a two hour orientation to the transitional schooling curriculum is also offered to teachers who have students enrolled in the program.

Program Evaluation

Children will demonstrate increased knowledge of the skills needed to succeed in a daily school setting and will successfully transition into a regular ESL program.

Program Outcomes

  1. Children are better prepared to attend school in a formal setting, or an "American setting".
  2. Children develop better basic literacy skills.
  3. Parents become involved in children's learning process.

Last quarter 12 students successfully completed the program, along with 20 family members Each student is assessed in order to determine when to exit the Center. Teachers and other members of the agencies and specialists meet regularly to assess and evaluate the program. Outcomes for the students are evaluated through the following methods: 

  • Checklists
  • Observations
  • Self evaluation
  • Attendance
  • Participation with parents
  • Interview

Additional Comments

Starting school in a new place is always difficult but beginning school in a new country amongst all the changes, rules and regulations can be overwhelming. One child, a nine-year old from Cuba, was the first child to experience learning about American schools with Catholic Charities of Louisville. Although we did not know exactly how to help her then, this child showed us how difficult going into a public school was.

The student entered our program in early November and was placed into public school within three weeks. Two weeks later she returned to our school lost and afraid. Her mother and father were still attending adult ESL classes at the Catholic Charities, and she was grateful to be back with us and in close proximity to them. When she returned to Catholic Charities, we communicated with her school to find out what lessons she was missing and what problems landed her back into our school classrooms. The student was just not able to understand what school staff wanted from her. She had spent a very limited amount of time in Cuban schools, when her parents removed her to come to the United States. Her experience in Cuban schools resulted in her being shy and fearful of classroom situations. She had experienced Cuban teachers as harsh, and she had cried frequently in school there. After practicing what it was like to be in school with us and following some basic literacy skills, she acquired enough English to communicate with others in school. Day in and day out we followed a simple schedule, practiced songs and stories in English, visited schools and scheduled other children from the community to come in and talk about their experiences using interpreters. We set up meetings for her and her family with teachers, mentors, and school staff. Her parents learned how to work with her school to help her become successful. Her mother said that she loved being able to talk with the teacher and understand the homework that this student had to do.

From this one student's experience, the school district and Catholic Charities realized that a school orientation program would help all children with little to no schooling become successful; within the next year, we developed the School Readiness Center, also called the Transitional Schooling Program.

The program is designed to connect directly into the Public School system. Children are also prepared in content areas such as social studies, English, science, and math.

Program Contact

Gaye Horne
Catholic Charities of Louisville
(502) 447-7998

Berta Calbert
Jefferson County Public School
(502) 485-3586

Program Dates

This program began in September 2005 and ended in 2006 when the Jefferson County Public Schools developed a Newcomer Academy.