Bridging the Gap

North Texas Catholic
(Mar 25, 2024) Feature

Amy Snyder (center, front row, in black) with her Refugee School Impact Program staff at Catholic Charities Fort Worth on Jan. 31. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

When teachers and staff at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Fort Worth welcomed 32 refugees last September, they also welcomed Catholic Charities Fort Worth’s Refugee Student Impact Program.

“We were new to working with refugees,” Principal Monica Ordaz said. “We didn’t know what their needs were.” 

She said the program not only helped teachers understand the unique needs of refugees but also assisted with the crucial work of communicating with students’ families. “I don’t think we could have had a partnership with these families if it weren’t for our partnership with the Refugee Student Impact Program,” she said.

Amy Snyder, refugee education program manager, said the program last year served 305 students at 10 campuses in Tarrant County and is on track to exceed that number in 2024. The program’s staff of 12 focuses on tutoring, counseling, and crisis intervention to help refugee children succeed in school.

“Most of our students are either unschooled or have interrupted formal education,” Snyder explained. “[They’re] unable to read in their own language and have had little exposure to books or classroom supplies.” 

So CCFW tutors and classroom teachers take on the double duty of teaching both English and literacy skills. In 2023 they helped 236 students learn to read and speak English, Snyder said.

Ordaz noted that today, all refugee kindergartners on her campus are reading, and students in other grade levels are growing as well. “Sometimes the growth is so fast that they are right on par with the other students,” she added. 

The Refugee Student Impact Program also provides individual and group therapy for students struggling with the effects of trauma. Counselors supported 51 children last year with the help of specially trained translators.

“We can’t even imagine as Americans what they have gone through,” Snyder said. “Every single one of these children has experienced trauma in one way or another, whether they experienced violence themselves or witnessed it.”

Additionally, crisis intervention helped 102 students in 2023 with issues such as transportation, attendance, behavior, and peer problems including bullying, explained refugee education supervisor Miranda New. She said refugees can become targets because their culture, language, dress, and food preferences are different. 

Despite the challenges, New said the students are “powerfully hopeful and determined. With just a little from us they thrive … and they’ll make huge contributions to our country and our society.”

The Refugee Student Impact Program also helps parents understand and negotiate the American public school system and serves as a continuing resource for classroom teachers.

“As a school community our eyes have been opened to possibilities,” Ordaz said. “We’ve embraced the challenge of welcoming a new group of students … and we couldn’t have done it without the Refugee Student Impact Program.”

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