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Some U.S. Schools Help Immigrant and Refugee Students Find Foothold

By Lovey Cooper

PBS Newshour is airing a two part series on English-language learners and refugee students, shedding some light on the realities that refugee children face as they integrate into America's school systems. This comes in the wake of the ongoing debate over whether the U.S. should accept Syrian refugees following the attacks in Paris.

Mayor Pedro Segarra of Hartford, Conn., has already offered up his city as a "sanctuary" for Syrian refugees, and Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez said Thursday that she has appointed a coalition of school staff that will work with Catholic Charities to prepare for Syrian families that might resettle in Hartford and enroll their children in the city schools.

In that city, and elsewhere in America, schools have been accepting refugees from all over the world for years.

In the summer and fall of 2014, many communities and schools saw a surge of unaccompanied minor children and teenagers arrive from Central America, many of them fleeing violence and economic hardship in the hopes of reuniting with family living in the U.S. Education Week's Corey Mitchell wrote last spring about a network of high schools in cities around the country that specialize in serving newly arrived immigrant students, many of them undocumented.

Marie Moreno is the principal at Las Americas Newcomer School, a stepping-stone program in Houston that strives to integrate kids from all over the world, up to 32 countries at times, into the American school system and society as a whole. She spoke with Newshour about her program's efforts to help students adjust.

Moreno says that although she knows some of her students are undocumented, she tries to stay out of the polarizing issue of immigration and instead focus her time on making sure her students can come to school every day and improve their schoolwork.

As part of the effort to ease the transition into American culture and education, Moreno's students have lunch and P.E. with students from the public school next door, an effort that also complies with federal requirements that English-language learners are integrated into traditional classes as quickly as possible. In most cases, it takes as little as one year to make the transition.

These reports are part of American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Part two of the series airs tonight.

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