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Places of Refuge

This series focuses on refugee students and their journeys, their new lives and hopes for a future in West Michigan, and the many ways schools and community organizations are working to meet their needs.

Refugee author tells students, ‘It is the story of your community’

Sandra Uwiringiyimana’s story of fleeing conflict and leaving her country behind resonated with students who read and discussed her book, “How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child.”
Seventeen Kentwood Public Schools elementary students made up the first iLEAD cohort

‘If I Can Do it, You Can Do It’

Dressed in red, resemblant of flaming hot sauce, Bowen Elementary fifth-grader Yoe Shi Yar played David Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant who founded Huy Fong Foods, Inc. "I was born in 1945 in Soc Trang, Vietnam. I am 72 years old....

‘The Goal is to Keep Them Reading’

Second-graders Leonel Santiago and Carlos Saldana hit an exciting benchmark this fall: They started reading their first chapter books. Besides helping them learn the important time concepts of "first, next, after that and finally," said Bonnie Biggs, a retired Kent...

Thanks to English Tutoring, ‘I Can Learn a Lot of Things’

Rose Sanreta had had a big day at Northview High School: a test in finance class, a quiz in English, reviewing World History for another test. But her last hour was all good, reviewing English vocabulary with Leigh Ann...

Building a Dream Into Reality

I see the horror figures portrayed in the media. I flinch and glower at the images of helpless people, abandoned and alone, drowning in hatred, blood staining their bodies while marking them for dead. They're all refugees trying to...

Language, Culture and ‘Jambo!’

Sixth grade teacher Rebecca Bing remembers a particularly tough day at school. She walked down the hall, feeling a little tired and pensive. Suddenly, Toussaint Melchsedek passed by, a big smile on his face, and said, "Jambo!" "All of a...

From Desperation to Diploma: A Somali Refugee’s Story

Note from the author: I met Arafat Abdikarim Yassin last February while visiting East Kentwood High School to write about the school's refugee population. When I asked him if I could write his story, he said he wanted to...

She Walks in Their Shoes to Understand Their Challenges

At Bowen Elementary School, English Learner teacher Katie Lett's students recently filled out "All About Me" forms. Soon they would write details about themselves on paper hot air balloons to hang from the ceiling. They shared their thoughts out...

Welcoming Our Newest, Most Vulnerable Students, Families

Tula Khadka remembers what it was like all too well. Arriving in West Michigan from Nepal in 2013, he didn’t know much English or the ways of his new country. He struggled to learn both in his freshman year...

“Am I in America, Really?” Refugee Students Leave Terror Behind, Look to Future

Gloria Tungabose's eyes flash as she tells of her father, killed in Burundi. Her mother's ethnicity was Tutsi and her father's was Hutu, and the two groups were engaged in a bloody civil war. Her mother, Butoyi, was arrested. "My...

Student Braves ‘Train of Death’ to Come to U.S., Go to School

Kenia's story of her journey to the U.S. comes through the fuzzy lens of a child's memory. She's uncertain how long she traveled or even how old she was, but some things she recalls vividly: fear, thirst, hunger and...

Helping Parents Build Brighter Futures through Home Visits, Play

Three busy boys play at Van Cung and Nzun Chin's house, pushing around trucks and bouncing on the couch.  Staci Zuspann, Bright Beginnings parent educator, pulls the youngest, John, 4, onto her lap to read a story, pointing to the...

Journaling, Imaginations Make Waves of Summertime Learning

Dante Botello may never have entertained the notion of caring for a pet monkey had it not been for his Spanish Elementary teacher, who drove to his house this summer with a stack of books and two lawn chairs...

Summer Migrant Program Stimulates New Generation of Possibilities

While scores of area children can be heard frolicking in the summer sun, an all together different buzz resonates inside the district's middle school classrooms. It's the sound of migrant parents' children working out a math problem at the white...

‘I Want to Make a Difference’

Gregoria Nava drives down a narrow lane through an apple orchard to a small cluster of migrant worker cabins. She’s come here on a mission: to persuade a teen mother to return to high school and get her diploma....

‘I Did That Too’: Child of Migrant Camps Helps Hispanic Students

Another day at Alpine Elementary is winding down when Sylvia Saucedo-DeVries looks up to see a young man come in the office. Miguel Vega, 18, attended this school as a child and wants to say hi to his former...
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