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Europe Takes Notes From Greensboro School On Refugee Education

Hassina Kiboua works with refugees in Ireland. She observed an art class at the Newcomers School.
Jess Clark
Hassina Kiboua works with refugees in Ireland. She observed an art class at the Newcomers School.

Visitors from seven European countries were in Greensboro Monday to learn how the Doris Henderson Newcomers Schooleducates newly arrived immigrant students.

The school allows students in grades 3 to 12 spend a year in classes designed to help them adjust to the American classroom, American life and the English language. Many students are refugees, and some are from camps where they went years without access to formal education. The school has more than 300 students.

The visitors were selected by each of their countries' embassies to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program, which is run by the U.S. Department of State. The state department organized the event in light of the  influx of migrants to Europe from Africa and the Middle East.

Lazise Hillebregt was visiting from the Netherlands where she manages a reception center for asylum seekers. She said she was there to learn new ways to support the influx of refugee students from Eritrea and Syria.

"It's very difficult to keep up with the migration flood," she said. The Netherlands accepted around 50,000 people seeking refugee status in 2015. Hillebregt notes the country is only half the size of North Carolina.

"So for us, it's really a lot," she said.

Maria Pisani was visiting from Malta, where she says schools are changing to accommodate students from Somalia, Eritrea and Syria. She said the question in Malta is whether it's better to put immigrant students in mainstream schools from the start, or to keep them apart for a while with more intense preparation. 

"My concern was always one of exclusion," she said.  But she said the Newcomer School model has its strengths.

"I think we're coming around to the thinking that it makes more sense in the long run," she said.

Federal law identifies the Newcomers School as "segregated." That means students can only stay for a full calendar year before they move into mainstream schools.

The European visitors will tour a school in Minneapolis on Wednesday.

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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