Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District

Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District News Article

Noble Staff, Community Empower Nepal Refugees

Students originally from Nepal take a trip to the zoo.

A Noble Elementary student of about 10 or 11 years excitedly explained that he was signing up for the Boy Scouts the very next evening. He couldn't wait to “build anything. Like build a car and go hiking and treasure maps and stuff. Cool.”

This may not sound remarkable until you learn that this boy was born in a refugee camp on the border of Bhutan and Nepal. He and his family moved to Cleveland Heights along with a wave of Nepali refugees over the past four years.

These refugees, whose ancestors were originally from Bhutan but who were resettled into U.N. camps in Nepal in the 1990s, now make up nearly 10% of the student population at Noble and their presence has changed the culture of the entire building.

“We are multicultural in a way we never were before,” said Principal Rachael Coleman. “This has forced the kids to look at what it truly means to be different.”

“It’s also forced me, and all of us on staff, to look more closely at how we attempt to engage parents. If our Nepali parents can’t read, we have to rely more on things like robo-calls. But if they don't have phones, then we have to find a way to connect with them one-on-one.”

This shifting dynamic is compounded by the fact that most of the parents have never had any formal schooling and are illiterate in their native language as well as in English. The children, having spent their entire lives as refugees, attended “camp schools” that were often over-crowded and taught by older children or teens, so they too may be learning to read for the very first time. The staff at Noble has had to scramble to meet the vast needs of this population.

There are numerous support personnel in place, many funded through a 21st Century grant secured by Sue Pardee, Supervisor of Federal Programs and Grants, and Meghan McMahon, the 21st Century Grant Coordinator, as well as some through district Title I and Title III dollars.

Wendy Craven is the full-time English Language teacher, who “pushes in” to the classrooms of her students. “That allows me to support them while they’re in their regular classes, learning the core curriculum.”

“Despite all the challenges, this work is easy when you meet the kids. They’re so kind and so good and have such a strong work ethic. They absolutely appreciate the opportunities they have here in America.”

Craven also helps at the Peer to Peer, or P2P, mentoring program that pairs Nepali students and native speakers in lesson and experiences both before and after school four days each week. Tiffany Rowan, a former early childhood educator, is the coordinator of P2P, funded through the grant.

The group is made up of 33 English language learners and 14 native speakers who gather for 15 hours each week to practice reading, speaking and listening in English through real world interactions. The children play games, engage in theater productions and create art, including a large mural they painted on the exterior of the building that reads, “E pluribus unum” (“out of many, one”) a perfect description of the new bonds being formed at Noble.

“Our partnership with the Center for Arts-Inspired Learning (formerly Young Audiences) has had a huge impact. Creating art, dancing and making music all work despite language barriers.”

P2P students also go on field trips to fully understand the American experience. From bowling to visiting a farm to riding a roller coaster, these opportunities open completely new worlds to children who never knew such things existed.

“We’re always looking for new partnerships,” said Rowan. “Anyone who has an experience they can offer to our children, from touring the back rooms of a grocery store to visiting a pet shop to apple picking. They’re all valuable learning experiences.”

The school also has the added benefit of staff member Draupadi Pradhan who migrated from Nepal to the United States in 2012 and serves as an interpreter, funded through the grant, as well as an aide in the lunchroom. She is often invited to parent-teacher conferences, and PTA or school-wide events, including the three parent nights hosted by P2P each year.

“I am very glad for the opportunity to help, to be near people who speak my own language. It’s my homeland.”

Monticello Middle School also has a cohort of Nepali refugees among its student body. Kari Queen is the building’s English Language teacher for half of each day and then splits her remaining time between Boulevard and Oxford, where she teaches immigrants and refugees including one from Congo and another from Iraq. Ten of her fourteen Monticello students are Nepali refugees.

Most, she said, already speak both Nepali and Hindi, so English is their third language. Students come to her classroom during their foreign language block, since teaching them Chinese or Spanish while they’re still learning English would only confuse matters.

“We work on all aspects of language development, including reading and comprehension, writing, speaking and listening.”

She also fills in cultural gaps. “The students recently read an article in their language arts class that mentioned the Wizard of Oz. Well, these kids have no idea what the Wizard of Oz is, so now I’ve added pop culture references to my instruction.”

Her students are making tremendous progress. “It might not show up yet in their test scores, but they are functioning in school and in life.”

Both Queen and Craven agree that their students are picking up social English very quickly, thereby helping them integrate into the fabric of their schools. Their academic English, however, is still lacking, especially when it comes to specific content area vocabulary in science and social studies.

Both buildings feel like there is more they could be doing with greater support from the community. Tiffany Rowan, who can be reached at [email protected], welcomes partnerships for the P2P program in the form of field trips and experiences, but also in terms of volunteers who would be willing to come in and build a relationship with a child.

“You don't need any special skills,” she insists. “Just compassion and willingness to listen and connect. Then they can see that they have a voice and a place and are valued.”

Kari Queen agrees. “If you see these new residents out and about, just be friendly. A smile and a hello can go a long way toward making them feel like they’re safe and welcome here in the Heights.”

Print This Article
View text-based website