SPECIAL REPORT: NISD prepares to educate Burmese refugees

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Adoring pictures of Burmese children are shown often to pull at the public's heart strings. Stories of their struggle usually seal The Burma Connection, at least for educators.

"Many parts of Burma,schools do not exist," says a narrator on a video produced by The Burma Connection, a non-profit organization that helps refugees. "Too frequently, where schools do exist, they're beyond the financial reach of most of the people."

Nacogdoches is being told to provide an educational opportunity for several hundred refugees. They're children of Pilgrim's Pride Burmese workers.

"(We were) antsy about it to begin with, but I think we will see that this will improve the quality of life here in the community," said Nacogdoches Independent School District (NISD) superintendent Dr. Rodney Hutto to a group of community members.

"It's a lot of hard work, but the more planning you put into it, the better it turns out," said Ronnie Knox, NISD assistant superintendent of education.

Administrators are in close contact with schools that assimilate refugees. Visits to Schools of Americas in Houston have occurred and more are scheduled for next month. NISD administrators are learning students are likely to arrive with some American classroom experience.

"We'll have an idea where they are and build on what skills they already bring," explained Knox.

Refugee children have shown, with proper instruction, a remarkable ability to learn English. Yet, their limited knowledge in all topics could bring TAKs and federal assessment scores down.

"We will have up to 5 years if we file for this particular waiver, so there is a mechanism already in place (for state assessments). As far as No Child Left Behind, they're still on 2 years. We have 2 years," shared Hutto.

Then there are questions about additional costs. During a time when educational budgets are strapped. If the state funding formulas stay in place, the district will receive funding for each additional child. And then there's the possibility of grant funding.

"The money may not be out there, but it's not going to be because we don't try to seek it out," said Knox.

Administrators are also seeking out a place for a newcomer center. Instruction was going to happen in Beall Gym on the TJR Elementary campus, but now other possibilities are under discussion.

It's a work in progress. When it becomes overwhelming educators will pull out the adoring photographs as a reminder of what it's all about...educating children,no matter their origin.

Coming up

People are learning more about the refugees' past, present and future. Right now, organizations and agencies in Nacogdoches are on board in helping the refugees. We'll report what's being done to fulfill the Burmese personal and spiritual needs.

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