Beaumont’s newcomers program keeps refugees engaged
Author: Tammy L. Lane • First Posted: Thursday, June 25, 2015
A summer program designed for newcomers has brightened the break for about three dozen K-12 students. “Most of them came from some type of refugee camp or had some kind of trauma. They’ve had no school or it was interrupted as they had to move,” said organizer Dana Adams, Beaumont Middle’s Youth Services Center coordinator. “I wanted to build a supportive community so the students could share common experiences.”
Besides Beaumont, the students – who are mostly from the Congo – attend Cardinal Valley and James Lane Allen elementaries, Leestown Middle and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. Adams has set up the 10-day program much like a regular school setting, with the children divided into three age groups. The academic lessons focus on English, reading, math and computer skills; the youngsters also tackle life skills and art. After lunch, the energetic groups play basketball or soccer outdoors. They will also visit the Louisville Zoo on July 1. “There the language barrier doesn’t matter,” Adams noted. “Everyone knows an animal.”
Beaumont was one of several school sites to receive a Newcomer Refugee Grant this summer. Kentucky Refugee Ministries helped Adams plan the program because its staffers know and mentor these students throughout the year. She also recruited several teachers from the participating schools as well as Maria Wertzler from Southern Middle, who teaches life skills. “Even though they don’t (all) speak English, they’re following what the others are doing,” Adams said after the youngsters mastered mini pizzas. “They seem to love it as they kind of follow along.”
On another day, Wertzler guided the students in making tasty smoothies as she explained the ingredients’ nutritional value, such as yogurt being a protein and a dairy. She also covers hygiene, skin care and housekeeping, and occasionally introduces students to such technologies as microwave ovens and blenders. “It gives them new skills they need to function. They’re learning, and they’re excited,” Wertzler said. “They can be independent and now have ‘tools in their toolbox’ to help them in life.”
Meanwhile down the hall, local librarian Amy Olson leads students through art projects, music, dance, and folk tales. She also uses these sessions to encourage cooperation and sharing. In one exercise, the children practiced a particular artist’s style by putting pencil to paper for a continual design, and then filled in with color. “They tried to find a feeling or sentiment inside the lines,” Olson explained. “There is validity in art and just expressing themselves,” she added, recalling how one student previously drew a helicopter with paratrooper.
At the program’s midpoint, Adams was pleased with the students’ participation and attitudes. “Putting the five schools together helped keep them engaged and active in their academics and alleviate the (summer) learning loss,” she said. The students have also had opportunities to interact and socialize on the bus and during lunchtime. “They’re already building relationships, which is huge.”