Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Upper Darby School District; Upper Darby, Pennsylvania

Program Name

Serving Refugee Students in the Upper Darby School District

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

The goals of Upper Darby School District's Refugee Children's School Impact Aid (RSCIA) are:

  • To help refugee students progress toward meeting rigorous academic standards
  • To promote appropriate behavior in the school setting
  • To increase the ability of refugee parents to support their children's learning experiences

Program Description

Transitional Education Program:
There is a Transitional Education Program (TEP) at both Upper Darby High School and Beverly Hills Middle School, which serve English Language Learners (ELLs) with limited formal schooling. In the past, the students served by the TEP were self-contained and taught by one teacher; however, the teacher certification requirements of No Child Left Behind required the program to change its structure. Currently, many of the courses, such as Global Studies, Physical Science, U.S. History, and Biology, are co-taught by ELL and content teachers and there is more of a gradual integration of these newcomer students into mainstream classes.

Social Work for ELL Students:
The Transitional Education Program has a "Home and School Visitor" (social worker), who is an employee of the district that works with refugee students at Upper Darby High School and Beverly Hills Middle School. The Home and School Visitor receives referrals from Guidance Counselors as well as teachers who have concerns with a student. Such concerns can include drug use, gang involvement, pregnancy, teens being asked to leave their homes (particularly those that are not with biological families), behavioral problems, students acting out sexually, and abuse and neglect. Some less serious issues include help with college applications, job searches, and help with graduation projects. The Home and School Visitor also conducts social skills groups for refugee students to provide support as they go through the acculturation process.

There is an "Upper Darby Immigrant and Refugee Resettlement Task Force," which includes representation from Upper Darby Township, the school district, other educational entities, resettlement agencies (mainly Lutheran Children and Family Services), County Assistance, area libraries and ESL service providers, local faith-based organizations, and health care providers. It has been meeting regularly since the inception of the TEP and serves as a networking entity to all those who work with immigrant and refugee students and families in the Upper Darby community.

Upper Darby School District collaborates with several refugee resettlement agencies in the area and has a particularly strong partnership with Lutheran Children and Family Services. This partnership allows the district to learn about new refugee students and families before they enroll. LCFS aids the district in coordinating the range of services, programs, and resources that benefit refugee students and their families. Title III funds are used to contract with Lutheran Children and Family Services to provide free adult ESL classes for the community.

The district also collaborates with Delaware County Memorial Hospital's Cultural Connections Collaborative (CCC), to help connect refugee families with existing community resources for mental and physical health and wellness. In the past few years, the CCC has helped to establish low-cost immunizations and physicals for students, and family health information services. The CCC also sponsors a yearly Health and Wellness Fair at one of our district's schools. Homework Club: There is a homework club in both the high school and middle school that operates after school where teachers provide academic assistance to ELL students (including those with limited formal education who are in the TEP) for content area courses. The homework club meets for an hour Monday through Thursday.

Resource Materials Used in Program

In addition to core curricular materials, the teachers use several other resources to meet the needs of refugee students. Literature, both authentic and adapted, is utilized in all ELL/TEP classes. Low difficulty, high interest novels published by Amsco are very helpful for students. Guided reading groups and literacy centers are used with some students with limited formal schooling. Some of the classes focus on READ 180, an individualized computer program used to target literacy skills and focuses on decoding, spelling, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. The Interactive Reader Worktext, a component of the Elements of Literature series, provides vocabulary support and comprehension checks in the text.

Groups Served by Program

The Upper Darby School District has approximately 11,800 students. Approximately 6.4% of these students are English Language Learners, some of which are refugees. Of the refugee groups being served, Liberians are the largest group.

Program Funding

This program is partially funded by a Refugee School Impact Grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. In addition, the program is funded by Title III and funding from the Upper Darby School District.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

  • 1 ELL/TEP Coordinator
  • 5.5 ELL teachers at the high school
  • 6 ELL teachers at the middle school
  • 5 ELL/TEP Home and School Visitor (social worker)
  • Guidance counselor at the middle school who works with all ELLs and Special Education students
  • 4 teachers for middle school homework club
  • 8 rotating teachers for high school homework club

Program Evaluation

The Upper Darby School District looks at several sources to determine the progress of their ELL students. The WIDA (World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment) ACCESS (Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners) assessment is used to measure English language proficiency. The district uses the 4Sight assessment to monitor progress of all students (grades 3-11) in reading and math. Teacher observation is used to measure social progress. In addition, surveys are given to students to gauge their confidence in English, school, peer relationships, etc.

Refugee student successes are celebrated frequently within the ELL Program at Upper Darby School District. In addition to increased achievement as noted on various assessments and on report cards, school staff are very proud of refugee students. Many of the students are illiterate and have limited formal schooling backgrounds upon enrollment. They enter Upper Darby High School without the academic foundation needed to excel in the core curriculum, yet the students work very hard every day to make progress in reading, writing, math, and other subjects. School staff are particularly proud of TEP students who complete the district's required Graduation Project and graduate from high school. Many TEP students volunteer in the community and make a difference in the lives of others.

Program Outcomes

Additional Comments

This program holds that both the older TEP model (self-contained) and the newer TEP model (co-taught classes with aim to integrate into mainstream) have advantages and disadvantages for students and, ideally, districts would offer both models as options for students.

The ELL/TEP's Home and School Visitor believes one of the biggest problems in the program are with children who came to the U.S. with non-family members [Note from BRYCS: These children are often referred to as "separated children" or "attached refugee minors".] Often these care providers have little vested interest in these teens and may throw them out or make them work. This lack of parental control and guidance may result in these teens joining gangs or females having sexual exchanges for money or starting their own families as they feel alone. Despite all of this, the Home and School Visitor stated that the refugee students have strong survival skills, are very resourceful, and are grateful to have an opportunity in America.

Program Contact

Laura Dolan
ELL/TEP Home and School Visitor (social worker)

Program Dates

The Upper Darby School District has been receiving Refugee School Impact Funding since 2000. This program is still operating as of September 2011.