Refugee students in America

Ms. Quintenz at Sullivan High is seeing more and more older students. Some spent the last few years in a refugee camp and so have been out of school; others fled their countries without time to gather their documents.

No matter the reason, if they don’t have credits, the school must start such students as freshmen. “It sucks,” Quintenz says, “but I really don’t have any other choice.”

A Rohingya boy explains that as members of a persecuted Muslim minority, he and his family fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, then Malaysia, after his grandfather and uncle were killed. Another student outlines eight countries–Angola, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, among them–that her family has lived in since leaving Rwanda. One girl, who has been in the United States for only a few months, says that she misses the smell of jasmine in her native Syria but not the sound of bombs. Trauma is part of the cultural fabric in room 106.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that as much as 75 percent of refugee youth experience some level of post-traumatic stress disorder.

That’s why the school had every ELL teacher go through two trauma trainings, one conducted by Lurie Children’s Hospital and the other by Sullivan’s former social worker, who also ran weekly discussion circles for students to share what they had been through.

For Quintenz, helping students heal comes down to trust: “Kids are only going to talk to you if you build those relationships and they feel comfortable with you.”

[Chicago Magazine]

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