Refugees out of Syria are the largest news story worldwide as we enter 2016. A lot of questionable facts are tossed around about this demographic, but the statistics are in, and easy to find. And the truth of the matter is that more than half of these asylum-seekers are children. Boys and girls seventeen and younger, most often accompanied by only their mothers. Most of these children, over 80% of them, are under eleven.
They are coming here for safety and for stability, two qualities desperately lacking and desperately needed. There are perhaps no two states more important for school-age children.
In Connecticut, the small city of Hartford is hoping to set an example. A charity, Catholic Charities, and the Hartford Public Schools community have committed to settling 80 Syrian families in their area. Although none of yet come (owing mostly to the complications created by the Paris attacks and the fear surrounding them), they have a system in place. In the last two years, the partnership has already settle 52 families fleeing embattled Myanmar.
The system begins with providing an apartment and half a year of living expenses, but that’s the least of it. Newly settled families are also linked to a case manager, who is translator and tour guide, showing them the best places to shop, helping them choose a doctor, and most importantly for the children, connecting the family with the right school.
Hartford is a strong school district, with charter schools that specialize in either STEM subjects or arts. Refugee children are placed in schools with the largest Muslim student populations for their comfort. At first, they’re placed in ESL classes, but they’re soon moved into the mainstream. Catholic Charities has been stellar here, securing grants to hire bilingual teachers in as many schools as possible.
There are few things as necessary to a child who has already faced a life of utter disruption as the quick establishment of a routine. So the work that the Hartford schools and Catholic Charities is doing is of the utmost importance. Other communities need to take notice, and stand up with them.