Search form

Ways Your Class Can Help Refugee Students

In today's world, our students often come from wildly different backgrounds. Some come to us with more challenges than others, but all students who walk through our doors are welcome. One group of students whom teachers across the country may find in their classrooms at increasing rates are refugee children. They may come from many parts of the world, with many languages, levels of prior study, and sadly, many come with trauma. As teachers, we need to be prepared for these students so we can serve them fully.

Understanding Our Student's Backgrounds

While officials may not share the details of each student's story, it is important to understand the country and region each student is coming from. The reasons your students may have refugee status vary, and understanding the political, cultural, and geographical region your student is coming from will give you insight into that student's past and present.

In addition, many students will not come directly to your classroom from their homeland. Many spend months or years in the limbo of migration and likely refugee camps or settlements. One thing you can do to engage your class with your new student, and your student with their new home, is to do a short unit on the country of origin of your new student. Highlight all the contributions of that society, perhaps share some holidays they celebrate and some dishes from the local cuisine. And do the same for your community, show your new student special holidays, celebrations, and fun activities in the surrounding area.

Understanding Our Student's Present Situation

Just as with all students, understanding your refugee student's living situation, identifying their needs, and assessing their educational standing will be incredibly important to setting these students up for success. Many of these students or their families may be learning English and need help submitting documents or accessing resources. Some students may have made the journey to America with relatives. Some may be on their own. Many, if not most of these students and their families, will have been exposed to long-term stress. Some may be dealing with diagnoses such as PTSD or Depression.

These students will come with a unique set of experiences, strengths, and challenges, dealing with a past that may be filled with war, fear, flight of their homeland, persecution, death of family and friends, and at the very least, a major upheaval of life as they knew it. These experiences can present in a myriad of ways, both at home and at school. By understanding where these children come from and their experiences, coupled with a clear picture of their current living situation and support systems, you can accurately address any behaviors you will encounter in the classroom.

Understanding Our Student's Future

It is not only our job to push students through each grade level, but to set them up for success as well. This may mean setting up some extra one-on-one time with certain students, possibly redoing lesson plans to convey information more accurately, or sending home extra material for students to look over. 

In the case of your refugee students, it is imperative to research the resources in your area that cater to refugee students and their families. Once you have a comprehensive idea of the social programs, support groups, mental health organizations, and more that offer assistance in any fashion, compile those into a document or packet to send home with your students.

Goals and Ambitions

Besides assisting our students with accessing resources designed to help them, it is important to try to understand your student's goals and ambitions in life. While they may have come from a traumatic background, these children must understand that there is hope for the future and that they can still have dreams and ambitions. 

Try to speak with your students and see if they have any ambitions they would like to fulfill and any goals they would like to achieve, both short and long term. If your student wants to become a doctor, perhaps try to steer them in the direction of science and offer extra study materials or assignments. Perhaps you can find ways to include fun educational videos their classmates may have grown up with and loved. This may be a useful way for these students feel at home with their peers and become interested in the study material.

Engaging Your Class with Your New Student

One thing your new student is likely struggling with is a lack of community. Everything around this student is new, including the food, language, clothing, and surroundings. Add this to any potential trauma they may have faced in their journey to America, and you may very well end up with a student isolated from their new peers.

It is important to develop stable friendships, perhaps even more so when life experience isolates that child. Encourage your class to engage with your new student, helping them understand the differences in culture they may see. Model excitement in both learning something new and showing off their your class's own cultural traditions. 

Welcoming a new student with different experiences will broaden your class's understanding and empathy, helping to create the next generation of compassionate adults who will one day run the nation. By fostering a welcoming environment within the classroom, your new student will have a trusted place full of trusted individuals they can run to on their best and worst days.

Our Students and Teachers Moving Forward

At the end of the day, our goal as educators is to foster the nation's youth, guiding them as they grow and move through the world. America has long been a land of diversity and immigration, perhaps now more than ever. But the most vulnerable among us are the children. 

However, these children may also be the most resilient and hopeful souls among us. 

It is an educator's honor and privilege to serve children throughout some of the most challenging moments in their lives. By doing our very best, we just may be one small bright part in the story of their lives.

Written by Amber White

Education World Contributor

Copyright© 2021 Education World