Program helps refugee families learn english

Posted at 7:23 PM, Apr 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-05 22:23:49-04

Helping kids keep up with schoolwork can be a stressful experience for any parent. For new refugee parents, many of whom don't speak English themselves, the task is next to impossible.

The problem isn't a new one. Refugee children are mostly placed in grade levels based on their age, but often find themselves far behind their classmates academically.

Back in 2008, Melissa Phillips was a teacher at Ibarra Elementary School in City Heights, home to a large population of San Diego's refugee families. She witnessed many of her students in need of extra help, and founded the San Diego Refugee Tutoring Program.

"I see that they need a lot more support, just like you or I need all the connections we have in our lives" Phillips told ABC 10News.

What began as a small program has continued to grow over the years. Now, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at Ibarra Elementary, a hundred or more students are paired up with tutors to work on reading, writing, and other English language skills.

"These tutors are in it with the kids and want these kids to do well."

Some of the volunteers are local high school students. Others are retirees who drive from as far as Oceanside, twice a week, giving their time, and showing San Diego's newest families that there are people out there who care.

Laura Requena is an immigrant, volunteer, and SDRTP board member. She says the kids eagerly anticipate each session and the connection they make with their tutor.

"I think coming here as well, makes them feel they belong somewhere and they have their special person that they look forward to seeing."

Phillips says SDRTP is doing well, but can always use more volunteer tutors and donations, and that they're currently searching for potential corporate sponsors to help expand the program to even more refugee children in San Diego.

"It's a really great way for us to get to know one another, our newest American neighbors."

It's education and empathy, all on display in City Heights.

For her commitment to tutoring San Diego's refugee students, ABC 10News and LEAD San Diego chose Melissa Phillips as the 10News Leadership Award winner for the month of April.