The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Problems face refugee children in Guilford County

Since the mid-1980s, Greensboro has undergone a dramatic demographic shift due to a steady influx of refugees from all parts of the globe. It has had a beleaguering effect on the Guilford County school system, thus compromising the educational benefits available to refugee children. This has proven a challenge for the system, not only because of the number of children these refugee communities yield, but also their ethnic and linguistic diversity, with families from Mexico, the Sudan, Liberia, the Montagnard highlands of Vietnam and countless other places beset by political or social inequities.

An educational crisis has arisen in Guilford County, and as is often the case with public school systems, budget and faculty are spread too thin to be able to directly minister to the needs of these children.

“One of the problems is that the schools don’t know who is going to show up at the door with ESOL needs,” said Mary Anne Bush of the Center for New North Carolinians, an organization that operates in conjunction with AmeriCorps through UNCG.

“So if (the schools) put a budget in and they thought they’d only have 10 students, and then they get 45, the budget doesn’t catch up with them until the next year,” said Bush. “So for a whole year, they are deficient in providing the service because they weren’t anticipating it – that is a multi-layered problem.”

Bush administers the Glenhaven Multicultural After School Tutorial program, which is situated within the Glenhaven Apartment Complex, where many of the refugee children who attend some of the surrounding schools such as Jesse Wharton Elementary, Mendenhall Middle and Page High, live with their families.

While the program tries to work closely with schools, there is almost as big a communication gap between them and Glenhaven as there is between teacher and student. This can be confounding for tutors, who come from both Guilford and UNCG to volunteer, only to find that the homework assigned to the children is fraught with instructional errors and typos. This makes for a frustrating experience for all parties.

“Often times the directions are challenging to the tutors as well as the students, making learning even harder, given that there is already a language barrier,” said Clare Hyre, a Guilford College junior who serves as the Bonner Scholar project coordinator for the Glenhaven service site.

“We don’t know what sort of instructions the kids get at school in order to do their homework,” said Bush. “These kids are certainly falling through the cracks.”

This deficiency and of course the relatively limited linguistic range of ESOL teachers is another of the school system’s biggest problems. For instance, within the Montagnard people, there are six different tribes, each with its own specific Malayo-Polynesian sub-dialect – something the schools were certainly not prepared for.

“I think, individually, ESOL teachers are fabulous,” said Bush warmly. “They’re in this because they care about the kids and they really go the extra 10 miles down the road beyond their academic needs. They are very sensitive to the financial needs and cultural imperatives that guide these families.”

The bureaucracy at large is currently incapable of tending to these needs more effectively, because these children’s situations are such that the conventional methods of assimilating new students don’t work.

“The biggest disadvantage for the children is that they are placed in classrooms based on their chronological age, with absolutely no account of their educational background or learning disabilities,” said Bush.

However, there may hope for these refugee kids. Next year, a separate school for new arrivals is scheduled to open. The school is intended to serve as a safe environment in which the newly arrived refugee students can adjust to their new cultural surroundings, while giving them a better foundation in English. It will also allow for the specific educational and developmental issues of each child to be addressed more effectively.

“A lot of the kids are expected to do work that is above and beyond what kids in a new culture should be expected to do. I’m glad that they are building the new arrival school,” said Becca Spence, another longtime Bonner volunteer at Glenhaven.

ACLU guidelines stipulate that no child may be retained for longer than a year, however, and indeed, there is some criticism that claims this sort of institution is inherently separate, but not equal.

Others feel that the prime motives for the creation of this institution have less to do with the interests of refugee education and more to do with raising district standardized test scores. Regardless, there is little doubt that this school will ultimately result in a brighter future for these children.

Still, everyone seems to have their work cut out for them, and it will take time and patience to eliminate the system’s educational inequities.

“It’s a laborious and circuitous route to say the least,” said Bush.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The Guilfordian intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks, or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. Comments are reviewed and must be approved by a moderator to ensure that they meet these standards. The Guilfordian does not allow anonymous comments, and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Guilfordian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *