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Pilot program helps refugee students in Cleveland learn how to succeed

900 refugee students attend CMSD
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Posted at 7:48 AM, Apr 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-04 18:36:06-04

CLEVELAND — When the final bell rings at John Marshall High School in Cleveland, it signals the end of the day for most students.

Except for those in room 308.

They started in this room as strangers from seven different countries just a few months ago — 26 students who came to the U.S., to Cleveland, as refugees. Now, they call themselves a family.

The majority are from Syria, but there are also students from Sudan, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and more.

The “Teen Response” program started just a few months ago, meeting after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The 26 students involved were hand-selected and come on a completely voluntary basis.

Emma Vogel runs the program, a partnership between the nonprofit Refugee Response and CMSD’s Multilingual Multicultural Education Office.

She said she is humbled by the students’ engagement and eagerness.

“I hear from several refugee students of, ‘We don’t don’t understand students here in the U.S. who are talking when a teacher is talking. Don’t they realize not everyone has access and has the privilege to education?’” Vogel said. “So, they do take it seriously.”

Students like 17-year-old sophomore Mohammad Alkhlef, whose family fled Syria when the war began.

For years, Mohammad said, his only dream was to go to school.

It wasn’t possible for him when his family escaped to Lebanon and Jordan for their safety, but coming to the U.S. two years ago made his dream come true.

“When I got here, it was hard. The first day in school, I was happy and sad at the same time. I was happy because I go to school, but I wasn’t speaking English so it was hard for me,” Mohammad explained.

All he knew how to say in English when he arrived to America was “Hi, how are you?”

But in Room 308, the students learn what they can’t always ask in a classroom — how to handle finances, how to be a professional, which career path to follow, what it means to live and succeed in America.

Students sit to learn additional skills in the after school program.

Many of the students arrived to high school with up to a second-grade education, Vogel said, but their drive and determination has been astounding.

“A lot of these families have experienced traumatic events and the worst thing that could possibly happen is they make all the sacrifices and come to the U.S. and don’t succeed here,” Vogel said. “So we want to be bridging that gap of partnering with students and their families and seeing them reach those educational and career goals.”

There are 900 refugee students in the Cleveland school district. The pilot program of Teen Response has gone so well, Vogel said they plan to expand and hope to get more refugee students and their families involved.

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