Refugees

Syrian refugees now enrolling in schools

Reports from the State Department reveal that nearly 80 percent of the 11,000 Syrian refugees arriving in the U.S. over the past year were children.

Officials say that is a larger figure than most groups because most of the Syrian families, who mostly have large families, have stayed together despite the possibility displacement.

Many of the children refugees are being enrolled into public schools throughout the country. The cities include Chicago, Illinois; Austin, Texas; New Haven, Connecticut and San Diego, California.

El Cajon, a city outside San Diego, has received 76 new Syrian students during the first week of school. The city has become a melting pot of refugees. The first Middle Eastern Chaldean Christians fleeing persecution in Iraq arrived in the 1970s.

Officials say these Syrian refugees face challenges from limited English, interrupted education and share a distinct level of trauma.

Syrian children face many of the same challenges as other young refugees — limited English, an interrupted education — but they are somewhat distinct in the level of trauma they have experienced, school leaders and resettlement workers said.

"The truth is, a lot of them have seen some pretty nasty stuff," said Eyal Bergman, a family and community engagement officer for the Cajon Valley Union School District. "But I also see incredible resilience."

In response to the influx, school districts are beefing up English instruction and making extra efforts to reach out to parents unfamiliar with the U.S. school system. In El Cajon, one-on-one orientations introduce families to the school's teachers and staff and show them basics like how to read the district's academic-year calendar.

Some refugee students are enrolled in "newcomer" classes where they are provided intense English instruction before being placed in mainstream classrooms. Others go directly into classes with English-fluent peers but are assigned to smaller groups for individual instruction. Teachers are trained in identifying trauma, and on-site counselors help students who need extra attention.

"I've had students tell me that maybe some of their family members passed away," said Juanita Chavez, a second-grade teacher. "But I think a lot of them just want to focus on here, on learning. A lot of them don't focus on the negative things that have happened to them."

At night, Arabic-speaking staff and teachers hold a "parent academy" where newly arrived moms and dads are given bilingual children's books in English and Arabic and guided on how to help improve literacy at home.

The rising number of Syrian refugee students comes amid a heated presidential campaign. During the second debate, Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton's plan to expand the Obama administration's refugee program and accept 65,000 Syrian refugees the "great Trojan horse of all time."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.