IRC Silver Spring Launches Program for Refugee Youth
The International Rescue Committee has been working with our partners at the Suburban Washington Resettlement Center to launch a pilot program in support of refugee youth. The program is called The Student Education Empowerment Network (SEEN).
Refugee youth face a range of obstacles when starting their new lives in the United States. Prior experiences of trauma and displacement, new experiences of navigating an unfamiliar country, limited language skills and little cultural knowledge are among the challenges they face. These unique obstacles -- coupled with placement in low performing school districts -- make it difficult for refugee youth to succeed academically and to integrate with peers.
With the help of young professionals in Washington D.C., SEEN provides one-on-one mentoring services for each student in the program. Refugee parents are also supported with the help of the IRC’s Community Interpreters and informational evening sessions. “If you don’t know how to navigate the system you can’t help your kids get the resources they need to succeed,” says IRC intern Kate Christman.
Cultural Orientation Coordinator Mary Nelle Hall agrees: “Every student and parent participating in the program is excited about higher education opportunities in the US. However, there is a huge lack of understanding about the college application process and the higher education options. We need to equip these families with the information and tools to help make their goals a reality”. The sessions range from information about the college application process to grade point averages, student aptitude tests, and how to apply for financial aid.
The SEEN program launched with a summer day camp held from August 3rd _ August 13th. The 16 youth participants represent a range of countries including Pakistan, Rwanda, Congo, Iraq, Iran and Burma. One young girl from Iran had only been in the United States for a few weeks when joining SEEN. She now has new friends in the program that give her advice about life in America.
In the two week day camp, IRC staff took students on educational fieldtrips to local community colleges and cultural landmarks. During the first week, the students had a wonderful time visiting Prince George’s County Community College. At the Westphalia Training Center they learned about many career paths and met locksmiths, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, and electricians.
The field trip was a success largely because it was interactive and visual. For students still learning English, it was great to see and touch construction outlines as well as actual cars and motorcycles being repaired by mechanics. Students left the field trip able to explain the difference between vocational training, an associates degree, and a bachelors degree. In addition to the tour of Price George’s Community College, students were also taken on interactive tours of The University of Maryland, the Smithson Museum of Art, and the IRC Advocacy office. They even took a walk to the White House.
IRC intern Adam Street has witnessed the program already making a difference. “All of our students are learning something and it shows,” Adam says. “Some of them are talking about their higher education plans in more nuanced ways; they refer to the degree and school that they're interested in now. Other students have learned how to intervene when they see bullying or other injustices at school and are talking about how they can speak up and advocate for their classmates and themselves. They police each other in class now, saying be respectful. Parents also attended evening sessions discussing the US school system and higher education, as well as meeting with counselors from PG County schools.”
Program leaders say that the most exciting thing about the past two weeks has been seeing the kids’ transformations. Their goal is for refugee youth to go from surviving to thriving, and they are well on their way to making that happen. When the program began, participants were late, hesitant with their English, and nervous to participate in class. These days they are showing up early. Students with low English proficiency are raising their hands to answer questions. They are joyful about learning and excited about the future.