Organization advocates for refugee children in back-to-school plans

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As schools across the country figure out whether they’re going back to the classroom or taking part in virtual learning this fall, a West Michigan organization wants district officials to keep a particular group of students in mind.

“We basically had to change gears really, really quickly and basically try and get them acclimated to online learning,” said Kristina Pudasaini, a life coach with Bethany Christian Services.

Transitioning out of the standard classroom has been a challenge for both school districts and families, but another group of kids that Pudasaini wants officials to remember is refugee children.

“There came a lot of challenges with that, getting them used to their email — a lot of them didn’t even know what an email was,” Pudasaini said.

Pudasaini says about 20 West Michigan youth are enrolled in Bethany’s program for unaccompanied refugee minors. The students had to resettle in the U.S. after being in refugee camps around the world.

The program helps them learn things such as money management, self-care and how to use public transportation.

“All of them are leaving some type of country that’s going through a strive, whether that be persecution based on gender, persecution based on religion, persecution based on ethnicity,” Pudasaini said.

So, when it comes to going back to school amid a global pandemic, she says these students face different hardships.

“Their needs for being able to learn the material in a way that makes sense to them,” Pudasaini said.

She hopes as districts solidify fall learning plans, these kids are not forgotten.

“I would just ask school districts to keep in mind the unique challenges that come with being a refugee and ESL student,” Pudasaini said.

More information about Bethany’s program for unaccompanied refugee minors can be found online.