The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded $378,000 in grant funds to the Houston Independent School District to continue support services for refugee students. The HISD Board of Education will vote on the acceptance of the funding at its regular monthly meeting Dec. 11. The meeting begins at 5 p.m. in the board auditorium of the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center, 4400 W.18th.
HISD’s refugee program provides assistance to 610 children from 20 different countries including: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Chin (a region in Myanmar), Cuba, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Somalia, Tanzania, Thailand and Yemen.
The students range in age from four to 21 years of age and speak more than a dozen different languages including: Arabic, Burmese, Chin, Farsi, Karen, Kirundi, Kiswahili, Kurdish, Lingali, Mandingo, Somali, Spanish, and Swahili, with several other dialects spoken in the home.
The students are enrolled in 46 HISD schools, including 22 elementary, 13 middle and 11 high schools. The largest influx of refugee students came from Burundi, Burma and Iraq this past year. During the current school year the district may receive an additional 300 refugee students.
The refugee program provides support to newly arrived refugee students during their resettlement process in the United States. That includes orientation programs for students and parents to help them settle into a new culture and a new educational system. Refugee students also receive school supplies, back packs and tutoring on an as needed basis. Additionally, translation services are funded through the program for parent meetings, parent teacher conferences and to have information that is sent home translated into the home language of the refugee parents. The program also provides teacher training including cultural-awareness sessions and additional teaching materials.
This is the third year in a five-year grant project that will continue through Aug. 31, 2010. The Refugee School Impact Grant is designed to improve the academic achievement of refugee children through a multifaceted approach of academic
support services and a school acculturation program. The program serves both new and continuing refugee students.
“We see the difference this program makes on a daily basis. These students arrive in Houston speaking little or no English and come from countries with a multitude of serious problems from civil war to famine to persecution of certain religious or ethnic groups. In some cases their lives were literally at risk. HISD’s refugee program is critical to their success both academically and in transitioning to a new culture,” said HISD Multilingual Program Manager Jennifer Alexander.