Support the Refugee Student Mentor Program with Transportation
What is the Refugee Student Mentor Program?
The Refugee Student Mentor Program owes its vision to Professor Jonathan Kaplan, who sought to connect the talents of C/DMES students with a local elementary school in severe need of speakers of Middle Eastern languages. In 2015, many Austin Independent School District campuses faced a sudden and large influx of non-English speaking Iraqi and Afghan refugee students, whom they were ill-equipped to support academically or socially. Starting in earnest in spring, 2015, Dr. Kaplan and colleagues coordinated with an elementary school's administration to arrange the presence of UT graduate and undergraduate volunteers at the school as mentors, translators, and assistants to ESL and classroom teachers.
The program has grown from twelve student volunteers originally engaged at that first school to include 38 active volunteers serving Arabic, Dari, French and Pashto speakers at 17 AISD elementary, middle and high schools as of October, 2017; the organization’s total contact list of past and present volunteers and those who have attended volunteer recruitment and orientation events presently numbers over 100 undergraduate and graduate students. In addition to establishing and hosting an annual summit on refugee student needs for AISD teachers and staff, the program has also worked to increase its integration with aligned entities both inside and outside of UT to better serve its target population.
What do our volunteers do?
Volunteers typically work on site between two and eight hours weekly, most often under the supervision of an assistant principal or guidance counselor identified as a contact by AISD. The volunteers’ tasks are as varied as the needs of the students they serve, but can largely be grouped into three areas: educational, social and administrative. Educationally, UT volunteers assist students both in language learning and general subject areas, and may work as one-on-one tutors, small group leaders, or in-classroom aides. Socially, the volunteers act as mentors to help students adapt to new systems (e.g., how to navigate a school cafeteria), to interact positively with their classmates and teachers across language barriers, and to process and understand unfamiliar aspects of their lives in Austin. The administrative aspect of volunteer work includes translation of school documents and notes home, assisting students’ parents with paperwork, and – for more skilled volunteers – interpretation for meetings such as parent-teacher conferences. Each of these aspects to the volunteer work is critical to enabling and empowering refugee students to access the educational experience they deserve, and provides both tangible support and a friendly ear as students and their families establish themselves in a new community.
In addition to the services the program provides to Austin’s refugee families and public school system, reports from volunteers clearly underscore the benefits of participation from a UT student perspective. The opportunities for growth and refinement in language ability are obvious, and the volunteer activities represent valuable pre-professional experience for those intending to work with migrant populations domestically or abroad. Regardless of career trajectory, participation in the program has been described as personally rewarding and valuable to students who seek to be informed and socially aware citizens.
Maria Arabbo, Refugee Family Support Specialist for the Austin Independent School District, explains why the Refugee Student Mentor Program provides such a crucial service to the district and Austin community.
What will your donation do?
We are currently seeking funds in order to expand our abilities to aid AISD schools that are further from UT’s campus. Historically, most refugee families have moved further north and east after their first years in Austin, and as a result, move further from our volunteers. Many of our volunteers do not have an efficient way to travel to further schools, leaving a large number of AISD students we have the capability of working with out of our reach.
Your donation would provide funds for transportation, allowing our volunteers to travel to schools all over Austin. We will place those funds in a group account that is linked with a rideshare company, and have our volunteers carpool to AISD schools around Austin. These funds will not only allow us to transport more of our volunteers to schools in need, they will also maximize the volunteers’ time with the students. At this stage, most of our volunteers use public transit to reach the schools, leaving one or two of their potential volunteer hours eaten by travel time, however with direct transportation, the hour of travel to the school and back will become more time working with students.
By donating, you can contribute to helping our volunteers get from UT's campus to public schools across Austin, furthering the reach of the Refugee Student Mentor Program, and resources for AISD students.