Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Lutheran Social Services of Michigan (LSSM)

Program Name

Serving Refugee Students in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties (MI)

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

To help orient refugee youth and their parents to the school districts within Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. LSSM also aims to work extensively with local teachers to prepare the school district for newcomer students and their parents.

Program Description

ESL classes:
In addition to ESL classes offered to refugee parents during the LSSM summer camp for refugee youth, LSSM offers year-round ESL courses to refugee parents. ESL classes are offered to eight separate groups of refugee adults, who meet for class twice a week. The overall ESL session runs for 12 weeks, and classes are offered at LSSM and other community sites near the refugees' homes.

Parent and Student Orientation and Engagement:
During three month segments, LSSM senior specialist and school specialist assist new refugee parents and their children in their adjustment into the school districts within Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. This three month segment includes six group meetings among refugee youth, three one-on-one meetings with the students, three parent orientations, and field trips for both the parents and their children. At the very beginning of this segment, school specialists provide refugee youth with cultural orientation kits, which contain school supplies (like pencils and a backpack). The parents receive similar kits that contain items like hygiene products (like soap and towels), which they receive in the second parent orientation. School specialists work directly with the school system during this process to make sure the refugee youth are registered in ESL classes, and school specialists also conduct home visits during this period to follow-up with their services.

On Site School Specialists/Cultural Brokers:
Two school specialists are on site three days a week at Hiller Elementary School to assist new refugee students. In their collaboration and interaction with school teachers and administrators, LSSM staff are able to get a better idea of the curriculum that teachers use in the classroom. This curriculum knowledge is used to organize study sessions three times a week at school, when LSSM staff provide tutoring to the Arabic-speaking refugee youth. In addition, two school aides speak Arabic and contribute to these tutoring sessions.

Summer Learning Academy:
LSSM created an 8-week Summer Learning Academy where parents and students participate in basic ESL courses, receive training in hygiene, and get special assistance from nutritionists. In helping refugee families plan healthy meals, nutritionists help parents arrange shopping lists and even arrange visits to the grocery store. The Summer Learning Academy also offers field trips for parents and their children to attend together. For the refugee youth, there are arts and crafts and training in sports like basketball, track and tennis. These sports activities help new refugee youth develop skills for the classroom like paying attention, keeping motivated, and careful listening. For the parents, there are courses in writing, basic computer training, and crafting successful résumés.

Resource Materials Used in Program

LSSM recently created a 30-page book geared towards helping newcomer students and their parents acclimate to the school system. The specialists also provide cultural orientation kits to the refugee youth that includes items like school supplies, donated backpacks and hygiene products.

English booklet:  

Bosnian booklet:  

Arabic booklet:

Groups Served by Program

The overwhelming majority of refugee students receiving services from LSSM programming are Iraqi. So far, in Fiscal Year 2009, LSSM has served 168 Iraqi students in the school districts within Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties. During Fiscal Year 2008, LSSM assisted over 300 Iraqi newcomer students.

Program Funding

LSSM's program is partially funded by a Refugee School Impact Grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. In addition, the program is funded by donations from the Inavale Foundation.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

In August 2007, LSSM hired a senior school specialist (FT), who coordinates RSIG programming. LSSM hired an additional school specialist (FT), whose skills are geared toward the different demographics being served with the RSIG funding. These specialists act as "school liaisons" and cultural brokers in their close work between refugee families and the local public school systems. LSSM also hired an ESL teacher (FT), who provides lessons for refugee parents and their youth outside the school setting. A driver (FT) was also hired to transport refugee youth and their parents on field trips and to group meetings and ESL classes.

Program Evaluation

When the program first began, LSSM staff conducted a six week trial program. LSSM collected feedback from parents and children at the beginning and at the end of the program to evaluate what they expected to learn and, in the end, how effective the school impact services were in light of their expectations. Parents also filled out a similar survey at the end of the Summer Learning Academy. Currently, evaluations are given at the beginning and ending of each program.

Program Outcomes

Overall, the surveys collected from refugee parents on the six-week trial program and the Summer Learning Academy revealed that the children and the parents are very appreciative of LSSM school impact services and wish they could attend more often. The parents communicated that they were grateful for LSSM reaching out to their children and wished the programs lasted for longer periods of time. The only complaint was that the ESL summer classes for the parents lasted all day long, so the parents were away from their homes from at least 8 to 5 twice a week for the program. Next summer the academy will take this into consideration in designing the ESL session for parents.

Additional Comments

Though LSSM conducts programming for all local K-12th grade refugee students, this organization focuses the most attention on the younger children entering the public schools. High school refugee students arrive with the most severe gaps in literacy and need more time and resources to bring their skills up to grade level. Since school districts are concerned about the ability of refugee youth to graduate before the age of 20, these students sometimes respond better to local job training programs rather than LSSM school impact services. Consequently, LSSM refers older refugee youth to programs like Invest Learning Center, an alternative education program for children between 15 to 19, and the JobsCorp, which is available for children as young as 16 years-old.

Program Contact

Jessica Cotton
Senior School Specialist
(586) 698-0013

Program Dates

This program began in August 2007 and is still operating as of December 2008.