DCPS hires 6 refugee advocates to ensure students stay on target

April 1, 2024 | 12:09 am

Updated April 1, 2024 | 12:15 am

With almost 150 refugee students in Daviess County Public Schools, the school district has hired six new student advocates dedicated to ensuring the students perform well and their needs are met.

The positions are all funded by a Kentucky Office for Refugees grant. The organization partners with local resettlement agencies, like the International Center, to help surrounding organizations receive refugee-related grant funding.

The four grants they received, totaling $369,436, are helping them fund three advocates at the Preschool to Kindergarten level and three at K-12. The advocates are split between classroom aids and home visitors, with four and two, respectively.

“They’re just providing those extra supports to make sure students understand directions or if something’s going on the language service, and so that they can hear we can explain things in their language as needed so that they understand and can follow what’s happening in the classrooms,” Shelly Hammons, Federal Programs Coordinator, said.

Assistant Superintendent Jana Beth Francis said the grant is also helping alleviate transportation issues for refugee families. With some of the funding, they could lease vans to transport preschool students to and from school.

“An advocate goes to the home, picks up the student, takes them to preschool and stays with them while they’re there so that you can have an extra set of hands in the preschool classroom. Then [when the day’s over], they take home students and pick up another group for the afternoon session,” Francis said.

According to the Kentucky Council for Post-Secondary Education, a student can only identify as a ‘displaced student’ for their first 5 years living in the United States. Francis said that due to this, the funding can only be applied to newer students and is not part of the already allocated SEEK funding the district gets for its refugee students.

The advocates work alongside the Migrant Education Program that DCPS has already implemented. According to Francis, the district has had refugee students for roughly 30 years, so it has had time to find areas for improvement. Yet, it thinks the grant is a large step toward providing for its students.

“Over those years, we were finding what the migrant advocates should do, and so I think that was one advantage for us because we knew what we wanted these people to do when we got the funding,” Francis said.

One component was home visitors for preschool and kindergarten students who routinely met with students’ families during the school day to discuss the lessons their student(s) learned to reinforce their education. This includes helping the family grow their English comprehension skills and other materials.

“We all know that if we can get a student who’s transitioning into an English-speaking environment in our schools at a younger age, they’re more likely to attain English much faster than our older students,” Francis said.

DCPS’s refugee population encompasses several countries, including Myanmar, Afghanistan, Latin and Central America and different regions of Africa, according to Hammons. With 150 unique perspectives, the program is helping the district approach cultural diversity.

“We’ve learned a lot, and we have a lot more learning to do to ensure we are culturally responsive. For example, it’s Ramadan right now and just making sure people know what that means and that we’re respecting our individuals who partake in that as well,” Hammons said.

Francis noted they have equal refugee students throughout the different grade levels, and every school has at least 1 ELL student. While the grade levels are the same, she said Tamarack, Burns, Southern Oaks elementary schools and Apollo High Schools tend to have the highest refugee population in the district.

Beyond the services they offer now, Francis said they are looking at what services they can provide for older students who want to complete their high school diploma but may not be able to due to their circumstances. No concrete plans have been made yet to tackle what that looks like.

At its current stage, the advocates are funded entirely by grants. Hammons said that six staff members aren’t enough, and she looks forward to potentially growing the number of advocates they have. She doesn’t know how they can get the funding to grow the program, but she plans to find routes to accomplish that.

“I plan to potentially request more just so that we can continue to help, which may or may not get approved. The more support we can provide our schools and our families, I think that’s what we need to try for,” Hammons said.

April 1, 2024 | 12:09 am

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