Renata remembers her classrooms in Uganda, the ones without tables. She remembers how her family had to pay for water. Since coming to Lancaster fleeing the turmoil in her homeland, she has decided to become a doctor, so she can help people the way others have helped her.
With Lancaster’s long history of welcoming refugees and immigrants, Lancaster-Lebanon IU13 is leading a unique, dual-function collaborative. The Refugee Center and Community School at Reynolds (RCCSR), a program of IU13 Community Education, helps refugees uprooted from their homes settle in and succeed, while also helping the entire community build skills for self-sufficiency.
IU13 forged partnerships throughout the community to offer services, create the space, and generate funding. In rooms at the School District of Lancaster’s Reynolds Middle School, the RCCSR helps refugees – most of them past the 90-day limit on federal resettlement assistance – achieve stability. Here, they can find:
English as a Second Language (ESL) and citizenship classes for adults.
After-school and additional ESL programs for students.
Welcoming Schools Orientation: An orientation program on the U.S. educational system for newly arrived families.
“Imagine going to a foreign country because we had to flee as quickly as we could to save our lives and our families,” says Community Education Supervisor Joshua McManness. “Maybe there’s an agency to help us find housing and enroll in schools, but at three months, they can’t help anymore. Meanwhile, you still have a language to learn. You’re working on cultural norms. Even going to the doctor and communicating with your child’s teachers are different. These are very real needs faced by families coming into the RCCSR and our mission is to help them work throw these needs and resettle as members of the community.
Also at the center, local residents and families of Reynolds Middle School students can access High School Equivalency (HSE) courses, ESL classes, health care and other supports designed to benefit whole families.
Since opening its doors in October 2015, the RCCSR has served 300 students and family members. Preliminary data shows a bump in PSSA reading and math scores. Services continue evolving to meet needs, such as the intensive “Leap into Language” summer program planned to prepare English-learning middle school students for the upcoming school year.
The “inner resilience and motivation” of Lancaster’s refugee population is already in place, says McManness. “We just try and make the connections, and help with language barriers. The amount of resilience in our families and kids is amazing. In fact, we learn something new from them, every day!”