‘New Americans’ start at community colleges

Minnesota isn’t  just for Larsons, Hansons and Olsons. The state has drawn Latino immigrants and African refugees to rural towns with jobs in meatpacking and agriculture.  “New Americans” are turning to community and technical colleges to move up the economic  and academic ladder.

The Polish orphans of Pahiatua

Children from Eastern Poland who’d been deported by the Soviets, starved and orphaned were sent to a New Zealand refugee camp called Pahiatua in 1944, writes Anne Applebaum in Slate. Despite their childhood suffering and the loss of their families, the children of Pahiatua made good lives in their new country.

On Oct. 31, 1944, their ship pulled into Wellington harbor. More than 750 orphans, from toddlers to young teenagers, and 100 adult caretakers, teachers, and doctors disembarked. . . .  they stayed together, studied together, organized Polish scouting troops, and waited for the war to end so they could go home.

When the war was over, few had anyone to return to. Their former home, Eastern Poland, had been annexed by the Soviet Union. They made new homes in New Zealand. They started new families.

. . .  they had witnessed the deaths of parents and siblings, experienced terrible deprivation, and lost years of education before finding themselves in an alien country on the far side of the world. And yet they learned the language, they assimilated, they became doctors, lawyers, farmers, factory workers, teachers, and businessmen.

We believe children need “excellent schools, carefully organized leisure and . . .  high-concentration, high-focus parenting,” writes Applebaum. The Pahiatua orphans made do with a lot less.

Community colleges reach out to alumni

As state and local funding falls short, more community colleges are reaching out to alumni and former students.

Miami Dade College, which opened just as the first wave of Cuban refugees was arriving, has an active alumni network that supports the college with donations, mentoring for students and service on college committees.


Immigrant blacks outperform natives

Africans outperform African-Americans in Seattle schools: Even the children of destitute Somali refugees do better.

The district compared blacks who speak English at home with those who speak other languages at home but aren’t considered English Language Learners.

Amharic-speaking students from Ethiopia scored the highest, nearly reaching the district average in reading. Somalis did worse than other African immigrants, but much better than English-only blacks.

• Only 36 percent of black students who speak English at home passed their grade’s math test, while 47 percent of Somali-speaking students passed. Other black ethnic groups did even better, although still lower than the district average of 70 percent.

• In reading, 56 percent of black students who speak English passed, while 67 percent of Somali-speaking students passed. Again, other black ethnic groups did better, though still lower than the district average of 78 percent.

Black immigrants attend college at a much higher rate than U.S.-born blacks or whites, concluded a John Hopkins study in 2009. The immigrants were educated, successful people in their home countries, researchers said.

However, that’s not true of the very poor Somalis who found refuge in Seattle.

Seattle School Board member Betty Patu, who has worked for decades with community groups serving students of color, said she has noticed that all immigrant families, regardless of socioeconomic status, place high value on education.

“Their motivation is different,” she said. “When you leave your country, you come here to do something. You don’t come here just to sit around and do nothing.”

In short, it’s the culture, stupid.

However, Marty McLaren, a board member and former teacher, blames “a culture of low expectations . . .  dating back to the days of slavery” for American blacks’ poor performance. Faced with institutionalized racism, students give up, she said.



Teaching compassion for refugees

In New York’s South Bronx, a ninth-grade social studies teacher is spending five weeks on curriculum based on Iraqi refugees’ experiences, reports Learning Matters. The show aired on PBS Newshour this week and will be rebroadcast.

The teacher wants her tough-shelled students to learn to empathize with people who have even worse problems than their own. Students look at photos of refugees and imagine their lives. They’re told to list the 10 things they’d take with them if they had to leave home in five minutes. Later, told they have to dump half their possessions, one boy gives up his electronics in favor of “my mom, my sister, my other sister.”  It’s sweet, but is it social studies?

I can’t help wondering what the students aren’t learning in those five weeks. The teacher is skipping the standard curriculum. What’s the trade-off?

As far as I can tell, students aren’t asked to read literature that deals with the refugee experience, such as The Kite Runner (Afghanistan), which could be a powerful empathy builder. Dave Eggers’ What is the What? (Sudan) is supposed to be good. Too difficult to read?

Refugees and tweets

On Community College Spotlight: Iraqi refugees flood community college English classes; the  valedictorian took her first English class in 2006. Plus: college student suspended for disrespectful tweets.

Hungry for learning

After a Taliban bomb killed their father in Kabul, the Abdul Nabi girls and their family fled to a Pakistani refugee camp. Laila and Jaila cooked, cleaned, sewed and dreamed of going to school. They wanted to be doctors. But it wasn’t possible. Then UNICEF resettled the family in Boston. When they were 13 and 14, Laila and Jaila started school for the first time. It was like offering food to the starving, their ESL teacher, Charlotte Dumont, remembers.

“It was so hard for us to believe we were finally at school,’’ Laila said. “Every day, as soon as we got home, we would study. All we had was our books, and we loved them.’’

. . .  Within 18 months, the two inseparable girls with the long dark hair had made it up to grade level, taking places in mainstream math and science classes, where they shone.

In high school, the girls qualified for honors and advanced placement classes.

They studied through nights, asked for extra help, reproached themselves when their work fell below their own exacting standards. They found time for volunteer work, jobs, and summer leadership camps where they kayaked and hiked. They were ferocious about all of it.

Less than six years after they walked into their first classroom, Laila and Jaila Abdul Nabi earned their high school diplomas. Laila will go to Bryn Mawr on a full scholarship. Jaila will live at home to care for her mother and brothers and go to UMass Boston. Both girls plan to go to medical school.

Books for Darfuri refugees

Book Wish Foundation, which provides books for people “in crisis,” has announced the holiday book challenge:  For every book you received, send $1 via PayPal to fund textbooks for English classes, books for primary schools or to build a library in a Chadian refugee camp for Darfuris.