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Refugee Resettlement Agency Launches ‘Mommy And Me’ ESL Program

As some kids are dreading going back to school, other students – and their mothers – are just wrapping up summer English classes with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. IRIS says the number of refugees enrolled in the summer language program has doubled since last year, so the non-profit launched a Mommy and Me class to fill the need.

A dozen refugee mothers sit with high school volunteers practicing English inside a classroom at Hooker Elementary School in New Haven. Next door, their children do the same. Avir Yusef answers questions they may ask at her children’s school, like which grade her child is in and who their teacher is.

“The grade two. The grade three. The name of your child homeroom teacher…”

Yusef and many women here are the main caregivers for their children, so the Mommy and Me class lets them bring their children to learn, too. That lets moms like Yusef study skills helpful for going to the doctor or figuring out the public schools.

“I’ve been here one year. Uh, one year. Uh, I have seven children.”

Avir Yusef from Syria is one of a record number of refugees that IRIS welcomed in 2016 – nearly 500. This summer, many of those moms and kids wanted summer language classes, bringing enrollment up from about 30 students a day to nearly 75.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on immigration this year that would cut the number of refugees allowed in the country by half. That order faces a Supreme Court challenge in October. IRIS says the court battles have still nearly halted the number of refugee arrivals – down to about 200 – except for those who have helped the U.S. military. Three families are set to arrive from Afghanistan through that program this month.