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News from Refugee and Newcomer Supports Program

Posted: September 23, 2022

The APS Education Foundation to Expand the Work of the Refugee & Newcomer Supports Program

Supported with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The APS Education Foundation has supported smaller initiatives to improve education for newcomer students through their grant programs, such as the leveled library at Highland High School.

The APS Education Foundation has supported smaller initiatives to improve education for newcomer students through their grant programs, such as the leveled library at Highland High School.

The Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) Education Foundation receives a $425,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support the Albuquerque Public Schools Refugee & Newcomer Supports Program. The grant allows for the expansion of services needed by the thousands of children arriving from other countries seeking asylum and refugee status in the Albuquerque area.

Antonio Baca, the APS Refugee & Newcomer Supports Program Manager stated, "Each and every year, tens of thousands of forced migrants arrive in the U.S. with hopes to build a new future for themselves and their families. These kids have witnessed some of the worst atrocities in modern times yet they arrive at school filled with hope and eager to learn. Although they may be physically in our classrooms, they are often mentally back home in Afghanistan, in Rwanda or in Syria. With funding from W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we are able to create more learning opportunities and support for these kids in order to help them reach their full potential…and their potential is great. Many speak three, four or even six languages. In the U.S. they quickly begin interpreting for their families and friends and supporting one another which demonstrates their values for family and community. And given the right support, I see these kids as our future community leaders."

The grant will allow the Refugee & Newcomer Supports Program to develop and implement a four-week-long Newcomer Summer Program for middle and high school students. It will also grow the district’s ability to support newcomer students and their families by providing in-depth professional development to teachers and staff and will include high quality instruction for newcomer freshmen at Del Norte High School. The grant will also provide opportunities for various APS departments to collaborate and develop messaging in various home languages beside English and Spanish as well as expand access for newcomer students to after school programs.  They bring incredible assets to the community.

The program has a small but dedicated staff of Case Managers, Newcomer Specialists and Newcomer Teachers but the number of students and families that need guidance and resources continues to grow.  RAELs are immigrant students who may be unaccompanied minors, refugees and/or asylum seekers.  Some have had formal education and now face language barriers but some have had no formal education at all.  Their educational and economic needs vary greatly and each student and their family needs customized support in order to build a life in Albuquerque. 

“We have been meeting with Antonio Baca since he took on the role,” says Shannon Barnhill, Executive Director of the APS Education Foundation.  “We have funded several grants in schools to equip teachers with the tools they need to help newcomer students learn English and navigate their classes, but we always hoped we could do more and on a larger scale for these amazing students and their families.  I have talked to many students who shared that they were confused and homesick when they first arrived.  We know the need is great and growing, and we not only want students to succeed academically, but also we want them to know they feel supported and they have teachers and staff that are ready to help.  We want them to feel more and more each day that this is their home.”

Parwin H. Wafa, an APS Newcomer Specialist wrote, “I enjoy being a member of the newcomer community and working with them in the classroom every day as a Newcomer Specialist.  Newcomer students have the right to an education, but they encounter various difficulties during their first few months in school, up to a year. I have seen how difficult it is for newcomer students to adjust to their new academic and social environments. They were confronted with a new language, culture, people, school rules and regulations, foods, clothing, and technologies, many of which they have never experienced in their home country. It is hard, especially for those female students who have never attended school, but who are now allowed to attend.  In addition to the difficulties, students have faced teachers who were not trained to differentiate instruction for multilingual students in key areas.  Teachers can be trained to get to know their students, establish culturally-relevant norms and routines, set high learning expectations, build a social classroom culture, and make newcomer students feel safe and confident.”

APS Superintendent Scott Elder said, "World events, including the war in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, have resulted in more Recently Arrived English Learners in Albuquerque Public Schools. This grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is timely, needed, and much appreciated. It will allow us to provide more programs for newcomer students, more training for teachers working with these students, and more support for their families."