For three weeks this summer, 90 refugee students ranging in age from 5 to 20 built friendships and study skills through the fourth annual Refugee Youth Summer Academy in New Jersey. Students from all over the world join together across different languages, cultures, and experiences for this extraordinary program. Six classes were hosted at Kean University in nearby Union, New Jersey, from August 5-23, where students developed English language skills, prepared for the upcoming school year, and progressed in psychosocial strategies in a fun, supportive and creative environment. As the program has grown over the past four years, so has the IRC’s relationship with Kean University as an invaluable partner in Union County.
Each class was led by an ESL-trained and certified teacher, with support from volunteers. Teachers promoted the general philosophy of RYSA, which seeks to build a sense of belonging, control, and self-worth by fostering relationships with peers and providing opportunities for intellectual stimulation and creative expression. RYSA staff endeavor to strengthen psychosocial resilience in addition to academic development to ensure students are prepared both scholastically and socially for the upcoming school year.
This year’s RYSA was particularly bolstered by a volunteer teacher who was an ESL specialist in her own career. She worked individually with students in breakout sessions across all ages to help those with the greatest need for English acquisition assistance. This was a major strength in 2019’s RYSA, and will set students up for greater opportunity in the new academic year.
RYSA also features three field trips, which included the Liberty Science Center and Alstede Farms this summer, in addition to specialized activities like art and music therapy, trauma-informed yoga, pet therapy, and athletics. RYSA captures some of the rhythms of the school day while also providing breakout special activities for students.
RYSA is led by the IRC in Elizabeth’s Youth Program Coordinator, Heather Fineberg. Heather’s work is not finished with RYSA, however. RYSA is the IRC in Elizabeth’s most intensive program with participating students, as they work with staff for three straight weeks, but during the school year the IRC supports more than 150 youth enrolled in Elizabeth and Roselle public schools as school advocates and resources for both students and parents. Part of RYSA’s core strength is the bond Heather builds with families throughout school enrollment and support during the academic year, particularly for new arrivals joining the year already in progress.
The adjustment to the U.S. school system can be overwhelming, but year-round services from the IRC ease the process and empower families to take charge of their academic experiences and opportunities. To support the youth program in Elizabeth, please click here.