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Columbus State Program Helps Immigrant and Refugee Kids

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At the Columbus Dispatch this week is a story about one of Columbus State Community College’s ESL Afterschool Communities — its English as a Second Language program for elementary- and middle-school children which includes a six-week summer session.

Since 2004, Columbus State has worked with 2,326 immigrant and refugee children acquire the academic, social, and personal skills they need for success in the US, on the assumption that it’s getting harder for families — especially immigrant families — to make it in America. The Columbus State program aims to help families fill in the gaps. You can read the full Columbus Dispatch piece here or below:


Nine-year-old Jama Mohamed and another boy sat in a tepee in a classroom at Prairie Norton Elementary School practicing their reading as their classmates worked on writing persuasive letters.

In the school library, a Columbus zookeeper taught students about wildlife conservation and why it’s important to the planet’s future.

Downstairs, the sound of laughter and squeals spilled from the gym as a soccer coach ran a group of breathless kids, including 10-year-old Johan Ventura, who lives for the sport, through a series of drills.

Welcome to an afternoon at one of Columbus State Community College’s five ESL Afterschool Communities — its English as a Second Language program for elementary- and middle-school children in Franklin County that includes a six-week summer session.

Since the program’s start in 2004, Columbus State has helped 2,326 immigrant and refugee children — and by extension, their parents — acquire the academic, social and personal skills they need for success in their new country.

“It’s getting harder and harder for families, especially newcomers to the country, to make it,” Prairie Norton Principal Mike Gosztyla said. “Many are working two jobs. They often don’t speak English. And most just don’t have the time or resources to help their children.”

As a consequence, refugee and immigrant children face language, cultural and financial barriers to learning that can hold them back if not addressed, he said.

Although still a small portion of the total population, central Ohio’s immigrant and refugee population is rising quickly. The Columbus metropolitan area has 151,231 immigrant residents — 7.6 percent of the total population, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Nearly half of the students at Prairie Norton, 60 percent at Stiles and 40 percent at West Franklin — each an elementary school in the South-Western school district — need some language assistance, said Ed Kennedy, coordinator of ESL services for the district. There are so many immigrant kids, he said, that the district has the third-largest ESL program in the state, serving more than 3,300 students.

 “Our students speak 74 different languages, with the largest population of our (ESL) students speaking Spanish, at just over 70 percent, followed by Somali with 14 percent and Arabic at 7 percent,” Kennedy said.

Columbus State’s program supports the extra assistance the students are getting in school in reading, writing and math, Gosztyla said. It also puts a premium on such soft skills as resiliency and confidence-building.

And unlike other after-school programs, it also focuses on children’s emotional, recreational and social needs, he said. “We’ve all heard the adage, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Well, I say it takes the community.”

For the 2016-17 school year, Columbus State provided after-school programs at five sites: Prairie Norton and Stiles in the South-Western district and North Linden Elementary, Wedgewood Middle and Southpark Apartments in Franklinton, which mostly serves students from Sullivant Elementary. All three schools are in the Columbus district.

 The college used $771,750 in federal funds provided for programs to help children from poor families who attend low-performing schools to receive academic support, said Flo Plagenz, the program’s supervisor. The college also leveraged $131,000 in in-kind donations and services.

In the beginning, the program was mostly operated in apartment complexes where the students lived in order to eliminate transportation challenges and give parents more opportunities to be involved. But as it has evolved and parents have become more comfortable with the schools, many of the sites have been moved into classrooms, allowing staff members to tap into school employees’ expertise and resources, Plagenz said.

The program at Wedgewood Middle School just finished, but Columbus State hopes to add one at West Franklin if a federal grant comes through, she said.

 The college also had planned to cut the summer program at Southpark and Prairie Norton, which is combined with Stiles elementary, from six to three weeks, but it received a $10,000 grant this month from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, sparing it from having to make the reduction, Plagenz said.

ESL teachers and tutors help children in the program with reading, writing and math. They also help kids through behavior problems and offer recreational activities. They play games, tour colleges and go on field trips to cultural activities, parks, museums and sporting events.

The program also offers services to parents, including ESL classes, health and nutrition workshops, interpretation and translation services and social-service referrals.

“I love the teachers the best,” said 10-year-old Cesar Guzman. “They’re funny; they’re cool. I’d say they’ve had a powerful impact on my life.”