A new after-school program targeting Pittsburgh’s refugee students aims to bridge the gap of English language learning in schools. The pilot program launches in Crafton Heights this week.
While it’s open to any student, it specifically targets the growing population of first generation refugees concentrated in Crafton Heights. The initial 40 to 50 participants who are in grades K-12 come mainly from Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and have been in the U.S. a few months to a few years.
Jenna Baron, the executive director of the immigrant and refugee youth support non-profit ARYSE, said that many refugee youth have experienced limited, if any, formal education during migration.
“It's critical that immigrant and refugee youth are given extra attention and support as they transition into their new lives in the U.S., especially in the intimidating school system,” said Baron. “Adjusting to a new home and school environment is stressful and frustrating, and it’s really no wonder why these kids have trouble catching up. Simply put, the education system is not designed for all English learners to thrive.”
Andrew Van Treeck of Jewish Family and Community Services, a co-host of the program, said refugee students only receive one English language learning class per day in school. The rest of their academic schedule is in mainstream English-speaking classrooms.
“We’ve noticed that they might still be completing their homework in English, however they don’t completely understand what they’re doing,” said Van Treeck, “so this program will help them understand the homework they’re completing.”
While there are some existing after-school programs available to refugee students, they’re not specifically focused on academics or language learning, and according to Van Treeck, aren’t being accessed by refugee students. He said this new program addresses the barrier of transportation and financing.
In addition to language learning and homework help, the twice-a-week program will focus on sports, arts, and making friends. Organizers hope to learn more about the barriers to participating in enhancement programs which refugee students face, and eventually expand the program to a year-round opportunity.
The program is also co-hosted by the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.