Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Catholic Charities of New Mexico; Albuquerque, New Mexico

Program Name

Refugee Student Services Program

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

The Goals of the Refugee Student Services Program include:

  1. To help refugee students succeed academically in school. This population needs assistance in learning English and basic skills in order to catch up to their classmates and understand their class materials.
  2. To help refugee students integrate and adjust socially and emotionally at school, in the community, and at home. Refugee youth have often experienced severe trauma and grief from leaving their home country, witnessing violence, and losing family members or friends. In addition, their cultural differences may inhibit them from making friends at school or in their neighborhoods. Within the family, stress can build up to the point of resentment and even violence. 
  3. To increase collaboration, understanding, and support between refugee resettlement services and local schools. School staff and teachers often do not understand the differences in cultures nor the circumstances of refugee students' arrivals. This can often lead to severe misunderstandings of student behavior and inappropriate disciplinary action. Often, teachers are overwhelmed by the academic and emotional needs of this population as well.

Program Description

Once refugee children (ages 5 - 18) have arrived in the US and received their immunizations, the Refugee Student Services Coordinator assists the family with registration into school. Additionally, the Coordinator ensures that the family receives school supplies (donated to Catholic Charities), uniforms (provided by the Albuquerque Public Schools Parent/Teacher Association Clothing Bank), and a tour of the school with introductions to key personnel (teacher, principal, nurse, etc.). Students are also registered for any pertinent school services and activities (sports, free lunch, art club, etc.).

Within one week of starting school, the Coordinator and/or Advocate will call the school to check on the student's progress and adjustment. Within one month of starting school, the Coordinator and/or Advocate will visit the school and observe the student in class. At this time, staff will often provide the teachers with additional resources, including research on the student's culture, and answer any questions the school may have.

The Coordinator and/or Advocate will accompany families to Parent/Teacher conferences at their schools and make sure that translation is made available and that the school is sensitive to that student's particular needs. If a student or family is having a particularly difficult time adjusting, the Catholic Charities counselor will make home visits to provide family therapy and make referrals to other community services.

For middle and high school students (grades 6 - 12), there is an after school program 4 days a week at the Catholic Charities office. Transportation is provided for the middle school and high school with the highest concentration of refugee students. Other students are assisted with finding carpools or learning how to use the city bus system. During the after school program, students may engage in any of the following activities: - Homework help from volunteer tutors

  • Individual and/or group counseling sessions, provided by the counselor
  • Individualized English instruction, provided by the ESL instructor
  • Life Skills activities/lessons (such as home safety, internet safety, and bully-proofing), provided by the advocate
  • Use of computer lab for research, school papers, or to practice ESL and reading skills

The Coordinator provides supervision, support, and resources for the staff, volunteers, and students. Each student has an Individualized Service Plan that covers their English learning, behavioral, and emotional goals. Staff members utilize these ISPs to provide comprehensive, individualized services designed to help students reach their full potential.

In addition to the after school program for middle and high school students, Refugee Student Services offers an English-immersion Summer Youth Program. This program includes activities such as sports, art, dance, music, theatre, and cultural excursions. Students' favorites include Hip Hop lessons, swimming, and cooking days, where each different culture gets to teach the other students how to cook their food. This program lasts 6 weeks during the summer break. All students may receive home visits and parent meetings at any time upon request. Parents are also welcome to visit any on-campus activities with or without an appointment for any reason. Free training is provided for schools that refugee students attend. All of the teachers, administrative staff, and behavioral health staff of the school are invited to attend, as well as any volunteers or teacher aides that work with the refugee students. Topics include culture and history of various populations, understanding PTSD, working with refugee families, and guides to community resources and services for refugees.

Resource Materials Used in Program

Books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and art supplies are donated to the program by the local library and individual donors. The program utilizes the Free Summer Lunch and After School Snack programs provided by the City of Albuquerque. Staff has also created individualized lesson plans including "Home Alone", " Internet Safety", "Self-esteem Portraits", "Anger Management", "ESL Games and Lessons for the Reluctant Student", and other lessons and activities created for our multi-level, multi-age classroom. During the Summer Youth Program of 2004, students and staff collaborated to create a theatre production illustrating their home cultures, journey to the U.S., and difficulties adjusting to their homes. During our most recent Summer Youth Program (2008) the students participated in a summer long photo essay project where they documented their lives and experiences through photography. Their work was displayed at the Albuquerque Peace and Justice Center in July. Staff training resources include a behavior management and modification guide based on the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Model from Cornell University and an open discussion of refugee youth issues following the viewing of the "Children of War" videotape. Guides from the Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning, the RESULT Handbook from the Lincoln Public Schools, the book When Kids Can't Read by Kylene Beers, and various articles provided on the BRYCS web site are often utilized by staff.

Groups Served by Program

All refugee children ages 5 - 18 are eligible to receive registration assistance, assistance acquiring supplies and uniforms, advocacy, and counseling. All refugee youth in grades 6 - 12 are eligible to participate in the after school and summer youth programs. Currently, program participants include students from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burundi, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Liberia, Nepal, Republic of Congo, Vietnam, and Syria. Approximately 100 students ages 5 - 18 are served per year. Twenty-nine students are currently enrolled in the after school program, with 11 attending regularly (at least twice per week). The Summer Youth Program of 2008 had 21 participants.

Program Funding

The Refugee Student Services Program is funded by a Refugee School Impact Grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The program also receives in-kind donations of school supplies, art supplies, books, encyclopedias, and computers.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

This program employs 4 staff members and several volunteers: 

  • Staff: Program Coordinator (FT), ESL Instructor/Youth Advocate (FT), Counselor (PT - 8 hrs.) The position of ESL Instructor/Youth Advocate was formerly two different part-time jobs.
  • Volunteers: 7 Tutors (2 to 8 hrs/week), and 3 of these tutors now serve as mentors.

Program Evaluation

The program is evaluated in the following 4 areas: 

  • School grades
  • School disciplinary action and court referrals
  • School drop out rates
  • Improvement on a verbal and written ESL assessment (based on the BEST test for adults)

Program Outcomes

  • Grades: For the Spring semester 2008, the average GPA of students participating the after school program was 2.98. For the same period, the GPA of refugee students who were eligible but did not participate in the program was 1.92.
  • Disciplinary Action: For the 2007/2008 school year, 1 program participant was expelled or received OSS (out of school suspension), and 1 program participant was referred to the court. For the same period, 4 non-program participants were expelled, 8 were suspended (OSS), and 13 received court referrals. 
  • Attrition: During the 2007-2008 school year, 0 program participants dropped out of school. For the same period, 5 non-participants dropped out of school.
  • ESL Improvement: Students (after school participants) are tested upon arrival and then every 4 months after that. The after school participants showed an average improvement of 75% from Test 1 to Test 2 during the Spring Semester of 2008.

Additional Comments

In the 5 years of its existence, the Refugee Student Services Program has had 7 program participants go on to attend college. Some of these students overcame obstacles such as learning English, learning how to read and write, and the endurance of difficult circumstances after their resettlement, including the death of immediate family. This year, we are working with 3 more students who plan on attending college after they graduate high school in May 2009. Our program staff has worked hard to develop relationships with the local schools, parents and families of the students, volunteers, and the resettlement case managers. These are ongoing relationships that are fostered and strengthened through time, trust, and respect.

Program Contact

Danielle Hernandez
Youth Mentoring Coordinator

Program Dates

This program began in June 2003; it is still operating as of January 2009.