It’s a tough time to be in the world of education. Local school boards spend their time addressing parental concerns on critical race theory, mask and vaccine mandates, and in-person versus remote learning. Faculty, staff and administration offer another perspective on these topics. With all the background noise, the purpose of education easily gets overlooked, and many students are struggling in the current dynamic environment. Consider what it must be like for refugee students who have landed in this new world of learning.
Recently I spoke with Riyah Patel, founder of New American Scholars, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit that provides peer-to-peer tutoring and mentorship to refugee students. Riyah started this nonprofit last summer at the age of 15 because she herself had struggled with remote learning, finding it difficult to connect with her instructors and peers. If she was struggling, how difficult must it be for kids who have been forced from their countries and homes, landing here with scant resources?
Riyah reached out to local refugee organizations and inquired about interest in a summer tutoring program for this population. The response was overwhelming. Because she had only one tutor (herself), she limited her services to 10 students. She then connected with the Concord Public Library for space. With her parents’ help on transportation, she was up and running.
The students ranged in age from fifth grade to high school. She grouped the kids based on their skill levels and worked with them Monday through Friday over the course of the summer. Due to cultural and language barriers, combined with the online learning system, the kids felt behind and abandoned by the American school system, yet they were engaged in the tutoring process and wanted to learn and fill in the knowledge gaps. By summer’s end, all students had shown immense progress. Riyah’s vision is to expand and offer services statewide, possibly partnering with schools. Her goal is for this nonprofit to become self-sustaining and carry on for many years to come. The website is up and running (newamericanscholars.org), and she is seeking additional tutors for the coming summer.
Perhaps there is a lesson in this story for the American education system. Sometimes we must cut through the noise and get down to the business of educating students, all of them, creating learning opportunities that meet individual students where they are. There are many ways to do this, and one very passionate and motivated 15-year-old student is leading the way.