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Supporting Heights High Refugee Students

March 9, 2017

In 21st century America, students are expected to graduate from high school prepared for college, technical training, or entry into the workforce. It is imperative that refugees meet this expectation. School success is an essential tool for self-sufficiency, a requirement for positive adjustment into their new home.


Refugees, who arrive in our community when they are high school aged, face special demands and are particularly vulnerable. As outsiders starting a new life in an unfamiliar culture they must adapt quickly to the most rigorous and consequential education level, high school. Language barriers, uneven literacy levels, lack of familiarity with educational expectations, family and work responsibilities, and complicated systems make school harder. A myriad of tests, applications, and forms can be overwhelming.   What is a normal everyday affair to an American student is many times a frightening, embarrassing ordeal for a refugee child. Because their parents are unfamiliar with these expectations, students must manage them on their own. 


We want our students to be successfully engaged in learning. Before that can happen they must know and embrace what is expected, and understand how systems work. With planning, preparation and effort they can manage what is expected.  Our refugee families need knowledgeable, nonjudgmental, trustworthy, culturally sensitive and concrete support to navigate high school and beyond.


Cleveland Heights is the new home to refugees fleeing the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, war in Iraq, and religious persecution in Bhutan.  During the 2016-17 school year, about 140 refugee children enrolled in the Heights schools, and currently 35 are enrolled in grades 9-12 at the high school.


There is also an unknown number of refugees who are not enrolled, due to being older, school aged and married, disabled or preschool aged. This is a special issue that affects girls older than 17, and children with disabilities.


Intervention Plan - CH-UH Refugee School Support Program


This project will provide targeted guidance to support the high school refugees navigate a new culture, its norms and its systems. The goal is for them to assimilate into our school and community, and experience a sense of accomplishment that makes them empowered members of our society.


Carla Bailey has been the district’s refugee school community liaison for the past 5 years. She has directly contributed to the success of 16 of the 18 refugee high school seniors and refugee Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE), guiding them to either continue on to higher education, a job training program or both.


During this timeframe, she has developed close working relationships with high school staff, ELL staff, refugee assistance resources, and many refugee families. She understands the Ohio high school graduation and testing requirements, and she is experienced navigating graduating refugee students through the financial aid, entrance exams and college admissions process, and has built relationships with Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland State University. Carla is knowledgeable about the legal requirements mandated by having refugee status.


Most importantly, Carla has the cultural and global competency to provide sensitive and nonjudgmental assistance to refugee families, while also understanding the wide range of barriers, issues and the many challenges that they face. She enjoys working with these young people and has easy rapport.


Ms. Bailey has a Bachelor’s degree from Cleveland State University in International Relations and a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction – TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Carla is a member of the Refugee Service Collaborative, an advocacy group for refugees in Greater Cleveland, and is co-chair of the Refugee Education Committee. Her community activities include serving, for the past ten years, as the Sponsor Programs Coordinator for the Greater Cleveland Area Team for the AFS Intercultural Exchange Program, and frequently hosts AFS foreign exchange students. 


Specific Activities


 Carla Bailey's assistance will enable youth to:

  • understand the value of high school and persist, and appreciate the importance of post-secondary education in American culture;

  • register for appropriate courses to fulfill high school requirements, and overcome barriers that get in the way of graduation;

  • access language acquisition resources as well as summer school, credit recovery or other educational resources;

  • find tutoring help when needed;

  • navigate testing requirements;

  • understand modern technology and how to select and use the appropriate technology for each task;

  • engage in extracurricular opportunities;

  • make friends;

  • balance school, work and family responsibilities;

  • assist in developing important life skills of living in United States, such as driving, banking, and how and where to shop and use funds wisely;  and

  • use of community resources such as the library, recreation opportunities, youth development programs, public transportation, the post office, medical help, and social services. 

Annual Budget: $20,300/year


Refugee Student-Community Liaison  – up to 60 days at $300 per day or $37.50/hour or $18,000/year

Reaching Heights Administrative costs – up to $1,800/year

Funds for refugee applications, fees and other incidentals – up to $500/year


Please help raise the funds to sustain this program by donating by check to Reaching Heights, 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Hts., OH 44118 or online at GoFundMe  


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