Children Bloom in Newcomer School Readiness Program
By Caitlin Boyd
This summer I had the opportunity to be a Summer Youth Intern with the IRC. Fresh out of the University of Washington, I was eager to gain experience with an established non-profit and save the world with my Political Science degree. Of course, I’m still working on ‘saving the world’ (and putting my degree to use for that matter), but I have not been disappointed with the six weeks I spent with the International Rescue Committee.
My position as a teacher’s assistant meant I got to work with children ages 5 to 18, from a spectrum of countries: Nepal, Burma, Eritrea, Somalia, and Iraq. Though some of the kids had academic backgrounds, this was exceptional. Conditions vary from refugee camp to refugee camp, but as you can imagine in a situation of displacement and political persecution, education is not always a first priority. Most kids are behind in school or had never even seen a school building. The IRC summer school program served as an orientation to American schooling before kids are immersed in public school in the fall. This means not just learning the alphabet; but social skills I hadn’t even considered like how to line up, how to use scissors and glue, raise hands before speaking, walk in the halls, and follow directions.
The most amazing and humbling part of my internship was watching kids bloom in their new homes. Their academic and language skills took off rapidly, but I specifically use the word ‘bloom’ when I remember seeing kids feel comfortable and carefree instead of guarded. The first day of summer school was extremely quiet. When we went to pick the kids up from their apartments, they watched us warily from the windows and walked in tight knots whispering to one another on the way to school. The kids who had been in America a little longer were more outgoing, but to the newer arrivals, we were people to be suspicious of. And rightfully so. These kids grew up in refugee camps, which would jade anyone quickly. However, after six weeks of the ‘weather song’, handwriting practice, learning to put puzzles together, and learning the hokey-pokey, I am happy to say our IRC interns earned the trust of these kids. Walks to school became talkative and vibrant- holding hands and singing songs.
Being a Summer Youth Intern gave me the privilege of making a difference in individual children’s lives as they transition into a better situation and a more hopeful future. And it also gave me the joy of observing kids finally get to be kids.