Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants; Boston, MA

Program Name

Massachusetts Refugee School Impact Program

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

The program objective is to develop effective local partnerships between refugee providers and local school districts to address gaps in services for refugee school-age children.

Program Description

The Massachusetts Refugee School Impact Program serves refugee school children through partnerships between schools and community-based organizations in seven school districts of Massachusetts experiencing an influx of refugees, including Lynn, Springfield, West Springfield, Westfield, Worcester, Lowell and Boston.  Each partnership focuses on needs faced by the particular school district in assisting refugee students to integrate into their schools and communities.

The mutual benefit derived from these collaborations cannot be understated. Public schools receive access to resources normally unavailable to them (such as bilingual/bicultural Parent Liaisons to support teachers and parents; interpreters fluent in low incidence languages, etc.). Refugee service providers enjoy having highly skilled certified teachers offering academic support in after-school programs conducted outside of schools. Jointly, schools and community-based organizations work out plans to effectively target gap areas in standardized testing and existing programs and to ensure successful adjustment and integration by refugee students in American schools.

Local-Level Program Components Include:

  • English Language Learning (ELL) and Academic Support to prepare for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (the statewide test required for graduation) and to promote academic success.
  • After-School and Summer Programs to provide tutorials, high school completion activities, school readiness, and enrichment activities. These programs typically combine academic support (help with school projects and homework, standardized test preparation, etc.) with fun and enjoyable activities, such as indoor/outdoor sports, dance and photography classes, and creative writing workshops. In addition, job/internship search and college application assistance are provided by some programs.
  • Bilingual Bicultural Parent Liaison, Education and Outreach to facilitate the interaction of refugee children with their teachers, provide a point of contact at schools for refugee families and promote parental involvement in school activities and the education of their children, through interpreting, support, ESOL classes, and informational sessions. Parent Liaisons from the community-based programs typically have scheduled hours at the schools each week to provide support for teachers.
  • Interpreters to enhance communication between refugee parents, teachers, and school administrators, such as for parent-teacher conferences, etc.

RSI programs strive to develop close ties with local organizations. One example of this is found in the collaboration between an RSI program and the local YMCA and health center, which has allowed program participants to benefit from free gym membership and nutritional counseling.  In another instance, the program has collaborated with a local non-profit--the renowned Massachusetts-based Food Project, dedicated to growing local sustainable food without the use of chemical pesticides and then donating it to area’s homeless shelters. Their participation with the project provides students with the invaluable opportunity to get involved in their local communities, to gain valuable work/ volunteer experience (through summer jobs, internships and volunteer opportunites at the farm), to hone their leadership skills and find a way to make a lasting contribution in their neighborhood.

Management (Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants) Components Include:

  • Facilitating communication among the grantees as well as resettlement agencies and school districts;
  • Monitoring and providing technical assistance to the seven RSI programs throughout the state;
  • Providing grantees with information about new refugee groups resettling in the state;
  • Organizing two annual gatherings of all the grantees to share new ideas and best practices with each other;
  • Building a collaborative partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Education.  The MA Office for Refugees and Immigrants plays a key role in establishing this partnership, which ultimately facilitates collaborations between local school districts and refugee providers throughout the state.

Resource Materials Used in Program

Below is a partial list of resource materials used in the Massachusetts Refugee School Impact Program:

  • Champion of IDEAS & Carousel of IDEAS, both published by Ballard & Tighe Publishers (comprehensive and systematic English language development programs)
  • Scholastic Action Magazines
  • National Geographic 
  • Reading Success with Jamestown Reading Navigator (program developed specifically to raise reading competencies and test scores of struggling middle-school and high-school students)
  • Readers’ Theater, published by Evan-Moor Educational Publishers
  • Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) prep materials
  • Teacher-made reading and math games and materials
  • Newspaper in Education: The Boston Globe
  • Math Triumphs, published by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill
  • Math Investigations, published by Pearson Scott Foresman
  • Aim Higher (MCAS math), published by Houghton Mifflin
  • Hey Math (Online computer program)
  • Discovery Education streaming Plus (full-length videos segmented into content-specific clips)

Groups Served by Program

On a semi-annual basis, the Program serves approximately 175 middle-school and 200 high-school students and their parents, distributed across seven school districts. The program is very diverse; it includes participants from over 20 countries who speak more than 24 languages. Program participants include refugee and asylee students from Africa (Burundi, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Uganda), Asia (Burma, Bhutan, Cambodia, Vietnam), the former Soviet Union, the Middle East (Iraq), and Latin and South America (Colombia, El Salvador).

Program Funding

The services for refugee students in the seven school districts are funded by a Refugee School Impact Grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement.  In addition, programs in three of the school districts are supplemented by Title I and Title III funding. Additional funding sources include: Tufts Medical Center; City of Boston; 21st Century Community Learning Center; Local Education Authority; GEAR UP; Commissioner School Grants and Academic Support Grant.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

Staffing at State Level: Approximately 10% of the state’s Refugee School Impact budget (or approximately .4 FTE) is used by the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI) to manage the project. 

Local program staff typically includes:  

  • Program Coordinators
  • Bilingual/Bicultural Parent Liaisons
  • Middle and High School Teachers
  • Interpreters
  • ESL Tutors
  • PEER Tutors (current high school students or recent graduates)

Training: All Refugee School Impact program staff must participate in continued professional development, including statewide meetings, as well as attend all relevant trainings in their respective school districts.

Program Evaluation

Program participants’ academic progress is an important measure of the overall program success. Students’ academic progress (in speaking, listening, reading, and writing English as well as other subjects) is measured by standardized tests, report cards, exam scores, writing samples, classroom tests, progress reports and feedback from parents and schoolteachers.  Generally, students are expected to demonstrate steady growth in those areas, as observed by schoolteachers, and/or when appropriate, improvement by at least one level (e.g. from “beginner” to “early intermediate”).

More importantly, are the program goals that transcend students’ academic test scores. These include greater engagement of refugee parents in their children’s education, improved communication between parents and school, improved integration and adjustment of refugee students, and successful school completion.  These objectives are measured by feedback from teachers and parents, native-language program surveys, workshop feedback forms, and program participation. 

Program Outcomes

Each of the state’s seven programs independently evaluates their programs, using measures described above. On a state level, ORI combines basic data from its programs (i.e. number of students served, etc.) and is currently exploring resources to conduct a more thorough evaluation of their program as a whole.

Additional Comments

Program Contact

Carol Chandler
(617) 727-7888 ext. 315

Program Dates

This program began in September 2005 and is still operating as of December 2009.