This interview is being shared as part of #SupportforRefugees, Repair the World’s campaign focusing on the global refugee crisis.
Being a teacher is a heroic challenge, no matter who your students are or what you’re teaching. But imagine walking into a classroom where several, or even most, of your students come from refugee backgrounds. Knowing how to bring these students together and meet the needs of such a diverse classroom is an almost unimaginable task. But in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an organization called Tulsa Newcomer Services is working to make it a bit easier.
Through trainings, professional development, and ongoing support, TNS “empowers teachers to provide an excellent education to their culturally and linguistically diverse learners.” Repair the World recently spoke with Executive Director, Maria Fedore, to find out more about Tulsa’s refugee community and how she helps students – and teachers – thrive.
What was the inspiration behind Tulsa Newcomers Services?
Our inspiration is our students. In Tulsa, the population of refugees is large and continuing to grow. Many of the students have experienced long stays in refugee camps, have had limited access to education, lack language fluency, and have experienced discrimination in school settings. Meanwhile, all students deserve to have access to education and a chance to thrive. We recognized the importance of supporting teachers who are working with these culturally and linguistically diverse students, and aim to help them meet their unique needs.
What sort of programs and support systems does the organization focus on?
We offer support at both the teacher and student level. For teachers, we help them in adapting curriculum to be more inclusive, learning best practices of language acquisition, and building knowledge, skills, and mindsets around engaging a diverse population of students. Our work with teachers allows us to have a broad and long-term impact on students. Student supports include small group, student-focused tutoring for 6th through 10th graders.
What does Tulsa’s refugee community look like?
The refugee community in Tulsa is large and all too often overlooked. There are over 5,000 Burmese refugees living here in addition to smaller numbers of refugees from other countries.
Can you share a story that helps demonstrate Tulsa Newcomer Services impact on refugees in Tulsa?
I’ll share the words of one of our teachers, Meggie Summers: “Maria is an amazing problem solver. She doesn’t just tell me what to do, but empowers me to find solutions. Also, I truly see a difference in my students’ engagement and academic success in lessons that Maria helps me design.”
How can people get involved?
I encourage everyone to learn more about the plight refugees are experiencing across the world, and to engage in dialogue with others that is rooted in facts and empathy. If people are interested in volunteering, they can contact us to learn more about what opportunities are available. Also, anyone can make a tax-deductible donation to Tulsa Newcomer Services. Donations provide school supplies, healthy snacks, and highly qualified tutors for our students.
Learn more about Tulsa Newcomer Services’ work at their website.