Episcopal School Welcomes Refugee Students & Families

November 26, 2013

Refugee children who are new to the United States encounter many of the same challenges as adults. They must acclimate to a new culture, new surroundings, and in many cases, a new way of interacting with those around them.

Many refugee kids tend to adapt faster than adults, but they’re also vulnerable in ways that adults are not. A positive school environment is absolutely essential to their success.

A group of Congolese students in Tucson, Arizona, have found a tremendously supportive school community at Imago Dei Middle School, a private academy affiliated with the National Association of Episcopal Schools.

Nine young refugees, assisted in their new communities by EMM’s local partners at Refugee Focus, have received full scholarships to the school, and the impact on their entire families has been evident to those around them.

The school has extended scholarship offers to refugee students in the past, but typically to children who have already been in the U.S. for some period of time.

The latest crop of scholarship recipients are new to the country, and the quality education and intensive support the school provides has been key to their success.

Nicolle Trudeau is program director at Refugee Focus; she’s worked with Imago Dei to build an active partnership over the last several years, and she’s seen the impact the school has on refugee families.

“They really provide an added layer of support for the moms and a real opportunity for the children,” Trudeau said. “The students attend six days a week. They go from 7:30 a.m. through 5:30 in the afternoon, and they also have Saturday school.”

In addition to extended learning time, Imago Dei students benefit from small class sizes, field trips, and special activities not available through Tucson’s public schools. Many of the refugee children attending Imago Dei come from single-parent households, so the financial support coming from the school is especially helpful.

Regina Nyiramuhima came to Tucson after fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo. Initially, her 11-year-old son Robert struggled in his public school. But when he had the opportunity to attend Imago Dei, his entire outlook changed.

“My son is very happy. Academically, he was struggling, but the school now is doing everything they can to help him. Now he’s smiling more and happy to go to school every day,” Regina said.

“I want my son to get a good education so he can be a good man in the future, so he won’t struggle in life and will make the right choices for our family and for the society.”

Refugee Focus has also brought resources into the school to support refugee students such as Robert as the formal relationship between the two institutions has grown. Refugee Focus staff provide special training to teachers, as well as case management and communications support to ensure that the school is connecting effectively with parents.

“Together, we’re able to address a broader array of the children’s needs and offer support that helps stabilize the kids and the families,” Trudeau said. “We’ve really established a strong partnership.”