At World Relief DuPage/Aurora, we embrace the old African proverb —“It takes a village to raise a child”, because when the community welcomes refugee students and extends hospitality, advocates for the vulnerable are created.
Daily, the WRDA youth services department welcomes refugee children and their families through a variety of programs designed to help the student adjust to the American school system. Upon arrival, the staff assists with student enrollment and parent orientation, and then invites the student into an adjustment group, afterschool club and a variety of extracurricular activities—all specifically designed to meet the unique needs of refugees. However, the above is just a piece of the welcoming process.
Refugee children are truly the world’s most vulnerable, but tend to thrive once their family is resettled to a safe place. Depending on the student’s age, level of trauma, and prior access to education, each comes with a unique set of challenges. As result, the youth services team takes a communal approach when caring for their students by partnering with area schools, churches and volunteers.
Local Educators and their Impact on Refugee Students
Rachel Gannon, ESL Coordinator/Teacher at Wheaton North High School
“In the big picture, it doesn’t get more basic then helping vulnerable people, in need of a safety, discover a new life,” said Gannon.
Initially an English teacher, Rachel Gannon went back to school to earn an ESL credential. Now as the ESL Coordinator at Wheaton North High School [WNHS], Gannon conducts the initial intake and ESL testing, and personally gives the students a tour—pointing out their locker and class locations.
“She is an advocate for all refugee youth attending Wheaton North. WNHS is the primary pull for kids in our high school/mentoring program and Rachel helps recruit students. And she contacts me when issues come up with refugee families at school,” said James Harden, Youth Services Manager/DuPage.
According to Gannon, every school year is both different and exciting for the six ESL teachers because they get to teach students from all over the world. Currently, there are approximately 65 refugee students enrolled in ESL at Wheaton North with new students arriving each week.
Craig Babich, ESL Teacher and Coach at Jefferson and Jewel Middle Schools in Aurora
A coach, both on and off the field, teacher Craig Babich is dedicated to serving the unique needs of the refugee students in the ESL program. In addition to teaching, Babich also coordinates the ESL students’ class schedule, which allows him to “buddy-up” students from the same culture and make them more comfortable in the classroom.
While the ESL curriculum is specifically designed to increase the student’s English language skills, Babich believes that is just one part of his job. He seeks to partner with other teachers so that the ESL curriculum corresponds with what the students are learning in their general subjects. Babich describes his ESL classroom as a “safe zone” where the students can practice their English and get answers to what he refers to as “real life questions.”
Outside of the classroom, Babich shares his love of sports by coaching the boys’ soccer team. He encourages his students to get involved in school outside of the classroom, which has translated into seven refugee students on the team. Furthermore, as a coach, Babich encourages all of his players to befriend the ESL students. “Just stopping-by to say hello goes a long way,” said Babich.
Cherrie Esposito, Principal at McCleery Elementary School in Aurora
Cherrie Esposito has been helping refugee students adjust to the American classroom for twelve years. While the refugee students come to the school with special needs, Esposito believes that their background enriches the lives of both the students and teachers by opening-up their world view. “It is hard to forget how blessed we are when we interact with these kids,” said Esposito.
Esposito recalls one refugee student from Africa who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “She would have flashbacks while at school and try to run away.” Another student lost his lunch ticket and began sobbing uncontrollably, because where he was from, no ticket equaled no lunch, which could be a matter of life and death in his country of origin. Often, Esposito uses these situations as teachable moments to help all of her students understand and accept differences.
“Our goal at McCleery is to create a respectful and safe environment for all of our students,” said Esposito. “ If we have a student with a peanut allergy, we don’t serve peanuts and if we have a Hindu student, we make sure there is something besides pork or beef on the lunch menu.”
Central Bible Church—Welcoming Refugee Students
Tom and Kathy Barron were introduced to World Relief by another couple in their church who served as volunteers with our Aurora office. In time, the Barron’s became trained volunteers, going on Airport Pick-ups and opening their home to a refugee family of five. However, in addition to serving as a WRDA volunteer, Tom is also the senior pastor at Central Bible Church in Aurora where he shares his love for the refugee community with his congregation.
“It’s important to be involved with the people in our community and World Relief is an instrument to help us get connected,” said Barron.
Currently, Central Bible Church hosts our youth services “Star Program,” but their main connecting point with refugee kids in Aurora is through their Awana program. Each Wednesday night, Kathy Barron, a bus driver for School District 129, makes two trips in the church bus to pick-up all of the refugee students. The students are excited to spend the evening playing games, singing and learning together; however, according to Pastor Barron, the students look forward to interacting with adults who genuinely care about their well-being.
“Our people love these kids and demonstrate it every week when they come to our church,” said Barron.
Now that the church is more familiar with World Relief, members are looking for additional ways to help refugee families in the area. Many have donated furniture and resources, and this November, the church is hosting a local missions conference focused on reaching-out to the most vulnerable in their community.
To learn more about the programs offered by our youth services department, visit www.worldreliefdupage.org/youth-services. And if you would like to become an advocate for refugee students in your community by volunteering your time, in DuPage contact Jamie Daling, Volunteer Mobilization Specialist, at (630) 462-7566 x1046 or firstname.lastname@example.org and in Aurora contact Alison Bell, Director of Programs at (630) 906-9546 email@example.com.