Tutoring Vital For Refugee Students In Cleveland Impacted By Pandemic

Mentees of The Refugee Response teaching a dance to their mentor at Urban Community School.
Mentees of The Refugee Response teaching a dance to their mentor at Urban Community School. [The Refugee Response/Instagram]
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The pandemic disrupted schooling for kids, teachers and parents alike. For resettled refugee families, there can be added complications.

“With my siblings, my little siblings, their English is not that good yet. With online, they struggle. It’s just so much for them,” said Reem Atia, a 21-year-old Syrian woman who resettled in Cleveland with her family as refugees in late 2016.

She’s a college student and working as a pharmacy technician.

“I have to work, I have to attend school and I also have to take care of the family. It’s just a lot for me,” Atia said.

Atia is hoping to finish her bachelor’s degree in December, but she’s juggling a lot: Not only is she managing her job and school work, but she’s acting as interpreter and tutor for her siblings, who are 20, 17, 15 and 10.

“[The siblings] got a Chromebook, and especially my little brother’s school—the elementary school—I go there and pick up materials every Monday, paperwork, and sometimes when it’s an art class they ask if you need crayons or colors or whatever stuff. So they are so helpful, but it’s a lot on us,” Atia said. “And for me, I’m a part-time technician and it was so much for me. If I go like 11 until 9, I don’t get a chance to see my siblings and see how their school is going.”

Resettled families like Atia’s face unique challenges, which resettlement agencies try to help alleviate, especially for the first 90 days in the United States.

This planning has not always been easy amid uncertainty around how many refugee families would be allowed in the county. 

President Joe Biden on May 3 announced plans to formally lift the nation’s refugee cap to 62,500 this year, compared to former President Donald Trump's limit of 15,000.

Biden had faced bipartisan criticism for not increasing the cap earlier.

While some agencies help resettled families for the first 90 days, Cleveland’s The Refugee Response offers more extended help.

Executive Director Patrick Kearns said education is a big piece of the agency's focus with tutoring and language help and emotional support for refugees.

“The last year was tough on a lot of kids. There was a lot of time that was at home, in front of screens, that was disconnected. So this year, we’re kicking off a summer camp for the first time that is a combination of soccer and art therapy courses,” he said.

The Refugee Response serves about 85 kids with its tutoring and other programs and Kearns said it is essential that they work closely with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the district’s online learning tools.

“Having access to that, and being able to provide that direct response to what’s happening in students’ academic affairs, is really key,” he said.

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