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Refugee children spend summer preparing to enter school in America

August 18, 2017
Ruby De Luna

Last year more than 1,700 refugees entering Washington state were school aged children. But many of them were not ready for the classroom.

For nearly a decade, a resettlement program has been running summer school in Tukwila for refugee kids to help them get ready to learn.

Alaa Bazara, 11, was born in Syria. Last December she and her family resettled in Seattle. Her native language is Arabic. Initially, Bazara didn’t want to come to summer school because she didn’t speak any English. She feared “…like everybody laugh at me,” she said.

Now, she has a different take on summer school. “Like, it’s cool,” Bazara said. “Summer school is cool.”

For Bazara and her 33 classmates, English is their second, even third language. They come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nepal.

Some have had little schooling, partly because their families were fleeing war. That makes learning a new language a challenge.

Stevi Hamill, of International Rescue Committee, the refugee resettlement agency running the summer school program, said previous reading experience in their mother tongue makes a difference. “It’s much easier, even if you’ve written in Arabic, which is not the same alphabet, to learn how to write in English.”

Hamill and her team developed lesson plans to help students build vocabulary and math skills. They include field trips to meet librarians, police officers and firefighters.