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Tutoring Nonprofit Looking For Help To Give Refugee Students A Boost

A young girl works with a tutor during a San Diego Refugee Tutoring session a...

Photo by Megan Wood / inewsource

Above: A young girl works with a tutor during a San Diego Refugee Tutoring session at Ibarra Elementary School in City Heights, April 27, 2017.

San Diego’s large refugee population translates to scores of foreign students sitting in English-speaking classrooms. A local nonprofit in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood runs an after-school program to bridge the learning gap. But the group said it also needs help.

San Diego Refugee Tutoring pairs refugee students at Ibarra Elementary School with volunteer tutors who help them with homework and reading skills. Co-founder Melissa Phillips said more kids are seeking tutoring services at a rate faster than adults are volunteering. She estimated a 50 to 85 percent growth in students regularly attending the twice-a-week sessions so far this school year compared to last year.

"That's a big jump for us," Phillips said."Because we do one-on-one tutoring, that means a really big jump, because that means we need another 50 adults weekly than can come and volunteer."

RELATED: First Person: Bosnian Refugee Traces Her Escape From War

The dozens of additional volunteers would mean students could consistently work with the same tutor, which Phillips said is key to kids' academic success.

She said the sessions are one of the few free, regular resources available to Ibarra kids and their siblings, who are also permitted to attend, because only so much can be covered during the school day. The organization additionally supports kids when they need new shoes, clothes, school supplies and other basic necessities, Phillips said.

Tutors must pass a background check and attend a one-hour orientation.

RELATED: Trauma and transitions: How San Diego schools grapple with educating refugees

Ibarra and two other San Diego Unified School District institutions have some additional support for the immigrant students through a refugee school impact grant. The $93,000-a-year allocation supports four part-time resource teachers, including Phillips, a summer academy for eighth-graders and a program to better connect refugee parents with their kids' schools, said San Diego Unified Central Office Resource Teacher Andrea Frost.

Frost, the grant coordinator, said the latter provides translators for parents to meet with school staff and become more involved in their kids' education.

"It’s basically a way for refugee parents to come in and sit down with a school counselor and look at their children's grades through Power School, which is our database, and look at grades, attendance and behavior," Frost said in a phone interview.

She said 21 families took part in the first session of this school year. A second event is scheduled for Wednesday and a third will occur later in the year. In addition to the parent meetings, Frost said the grant supports 120 kids across three schools with its four resource teachers, and an additional 20 students through the summer program.

She said San Diego Unified does not have a total count of its refugee student population because it does not track pupils by immigration status due to privacy concerns.

In El Cajon, officials at Cajun Valley Union School District told KPBS media partner inewsource more than 880 refugee students enrolled last school year. Enrollment data from 2016-17 school year shows more than 128,000 total students attended San Diego Unified schools while just less than 17,000 attended Cajon Valley schools.

Frost said San Diego Unified is applying this week for a new grant to further support refugee students.

San Diego’s large refugee population translates to scores of foreign students sitting in English-speaking classrooms. A local nonprofit in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood runs an after-school program to bridge the learning gap. But the group said it also needs help.

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