LANCASTER, Pa. — Lancaster educators know refugee resettlement isn’t just about offering a new home, but also helping refugees navigate the years of readjustment ahead of them. That’s why four local organizations are partnering to hold the third year of the Leap into Language summer program for middle school students from refugee and immigrant backgrounds.
IU13 Community Education’s Refugee Center and Community School at Reynolds (RCCSR) and School District of Lancaster (SDoL) are the primary organizers of Leap into Language. Khem Subedi, the community school facilitator for RCCSR, said organizing the program involves recruiting students through home visits and communicating with program partners to plan for the summer and establish the curriculum, among other things.
Additional staff and program support are provided by Millersville University and Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM). Leap into Language is funded in part through a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
The month-long program starts with English language lessons in the mornings, taught by educators from RCCSR and SDoL as well as education students from Millersville University.
In the afternoons, EMM provides enrichment activities through local youth groups who participate in its Kingdom Team program, a summer learning and service opportunity. Youth groups practice conversational English with their international peers through games, sports, crafts, and more.
EMM’s Community Engagement Coordinator Angie Earl believes the program is an opportunity for the students to keep up their conversational English skills outside of the regular school year. It also helps some refugee families adapt to the idea of full-day education for their children.
But perhaps most importantly, these peer-to-peer interactions help refugee and immigrant students form meaningful local relationships. “Having positive peer interactions helps refugee students to feel more comfortable and confident in using English and in relating with people of other cultures, which is an important step toward gaining a sense of belonging and welcome in the community,” said Earl.
“When the refugee youth reconnect with anyone they met during Leap into Language, they are so excited,” Earl continued. “It’s helpful to see familiar faces. That’s part of helping refugees and immigrants begin to feel at home here.”
Twenty-nine students attended Leap into Language’s first year in 2016. That number grew to 51 students the following year. All students attend SDoL schools.
The four organizations look forward to partnering again for Leap into Language in summer 2018. The program will run from July 2 to 27.
Maria Ronneburger, a SDoL educator who works with the program, believes the partnership is making a special impact on refugee students. “Our SDoL staff members are proud to partner with the IU13, EMM, and Millersville University to provide top quality English language instruction while immersing students in rich language and cultural experiences through classroom learning, STEAM activities, organized games, and field trips,” she said.