I’ll now be shifting my research focus from refugee resettlement to refugee students’ integration into K-12 educational institutions, looking specifically at the practices of Grand Rapids agencies and organizations. Here’s just a very brief overview of the process, whereas in my next post I will cover more specifics on enrollment into two major districts in the area: Grand Rapids Public and Kent Public. For now, let’s jump right into the basic enrollment process…
Refugee resettlement agencies like Samaritas and Bethany Christian Services will refer clients, whom they’ve resettled, to the Refugee Education Center (formerly West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center) for school enrollment. The staff at the Refugee Education Center begin the enrollment process once they receive a signed copy of the clients lease, I-94 forms, and bio-data from the resettlement agency. This referral ideally occurs the week after clients’ arrival, if all goes off without a hitch. Expedient enrollment in school is a huge priority for both clients and case workers. However, quality of integration is valued over quickness, so before refugee students and families dive head-first into the unfamiliar American school system, the Refugee Education Center provides a cultural orientation for families that explains some of the ins and outs of American school (i.e. how to take the bus, the importance of parent involvement and parent-teacher conferences, behavior expectations, etc). What else does the Refugee Education Center (REC) do, you ask? I’ll tell ya!
- They provide “Family Engagement” services, which means they handle intakes and school enrollment, acting as a liaison between the school and the family. These services include finding out which district would best suit the refugee family based on their geographic location as well as the ESL services that nearby schools offer, explaining this district decision to the family, and helping to complete stacks of paperwork. Staff at REC also work to break down cultural and linguistic barriers between student and school, track students’ progress to ensure they are placed in the correct classes, provide school bus and city bus help, enroll students in summer school programs, and seek out tutoring services and transportation to these services. These liaison services last for 5 years after resettlement.
- The REC also oversees students enrollment in Peer Support services, whether that be at the REC (2130 Enterprise St SE, Grand Rapids, MI) from 4-6pm Monday through Thursday, or similar programs such as those offered at Union HS, Riverside MS, Westwood MS, and Burton MS, that provide an open forum for teaching students about everything from technology to hygiene to retaining home language and culture.
- The REC also participates in School Impact Services, which involves collaboration between the REC and all the school districts in Kent and Ottawa counties and is contracted through the state. The goal of this service is to get everyone together to talk about best practices in serving our refugee student population.
There’s a basic overview of refugee student enrollment – look out for my next post that will address the specific procedures of Grand Rapids Public Schools and Kent Public Schools (along with a few other select schools in the Grand Rapids area).