Arizona public school district creating new opportunities for immigrant and refugee students

immigrant and refugee program for students in arizona
Posted at 10:32 AM, Feb 28, 2022

PHOENIX, Ariz. — The United States is home to more immigrants than any other country in the world, according to the UN. Educators are coming together to help the youngest immigrants transition to their new lives.

The moment you enter Miss Shenny’s kindergarten class, a smile is bound to come across your face. These kids truly love to learn even those who can’t yet understand the language.

Through the help of a translator, Sadia told us about her favorite school activities, but we also learned Sadia’s family was in danger in Afghanistan.  She and her 10-member family resettled in the Phoenix metro in December of 2021.

“When you make someone feel safe, feel welcomed, they thrive. They want to be here; they are happy," Miss Shenny explained. “She’s not as scared because she has all these little friends everyone wants to help her.”

Now, Sadia and her siblings are enrolled in the Cartwright School District, where a new immigrant and refugee program is expanding the district’s resources. Christa Schwaiger is the immigrant and refugee program coordinator.

“They decided that based on what our population changes were, to be responsive to our community they wanted to add something more with our immigrants and refugees," Schwaiger said. “We recognize that our English language learners and our immigrants, it’s not just language support services that they need. They come in with a lot of trauma so we have social-emotional support, they work with our psychologists and our SEL specialists.”

Schwaiger explains this is money the district has chosen to channel towards better serving these students.

“At Cartwright, we don’t tell kids to leave their culture at the door," Schwaiger said. “If they could have stayed at home they would have stayed at home. For most of these children, there is no home there anymore.”

They work with refugee organizations and agencies that sponsor these students before they leave their home countries, all over Africa, Myanmar, and now the fastest-growing group, from Afghanistan. Seventh-grader Ali is one of them. He has been in Arizona for four months now. The translator explained that Ali came to America with his aunt, but without his parents. He says it's the first time he's been far from his family and the distance has been very difficult.

Ali's parents consented to have him on TV, but his aunt asked us to conceal her identity because of danger back in Afghanistan. She explained that it's very difficult to leave your family somewhere like Afghanistan and be in America yourself.

But it’s people like Mr. Ben who make this new beginning a little easier.

“They are happy to see someone who speaks their language," Mr. Ben said.

His own journey of immigrating to America from Africa brings him closer to the students.

“It’s actually safe here; that’s the most important thing," Mr. Ben said.

Escaping from war-torn countries, these kids are being given a new beginning.

“Some of our children have come literally grabbing a toy, grabbing a blanket, come in the middle of the night and left with really nothing," Schwaiger said. “The biggest part of making a child successful in school is welcoming them.”

It's a new start in this country they now call home.