String of challenges awaits refugee students in CCSD

In a portable classroom behind Cashman Middle School’s main building, six students gathered around a small table and studied vocabulary.

Retired Clark County School District teacher Elizabeth Bash read a word aloud.

“Trumpet,” she said. The students began to write the word in their notebooks.

One looked at her quizzically.

“I’ll say it again,” Bash said. She slowly sounded out each syllable.

“What does that mean?” one student asked.

“How do you spell trumpet?” asked another student, Alembe Sango.

For Alembe and his classmates, English isn’t their first language. The group gathers for an hour twice a week after school with Bash to practice vocabulary, phonetics, letters and some grammar. That’s not uncommon: More than 60,000 students in CCSD are considered English-language learners.

But unlike those students, Alembe and his classmates are refugees who were resettled in the United States with their families. Alembe, Ornella Kabwe and Esther Karazega came from Congo. Another classmate, Ali Yekkalam, came from Iran, while a student to his right, Nau Mi Mi, was resettled with her family from Myanmar.

“I like to get a lot of talking going,” Bash said as the students wrote sentences with the provided vocabulary words. “Because it’s their chance to practice. You can see they don’t all speak the same language, so they have to practice. They have to learn a common language.”

Nearly 400 refugee students are enrolled in CCSD. They come to school with a variety of backgrounds, needs and personal histories, and it’s up to the district to get them up to speed. They have to learn English, learn American culture and ultimately prepare to graduate high school. They face a long and difficult road.

Graduation has proved elusive for English learners in Nevada. In 2016, the state’s public high school graduation rate rose more than 2.5 percentage points to 72.6 percent, but students whose first language is not English graduated at a rate of 42.6 percent.

“It’s very true that no one refugee family is like the other. There’s a lot of subcategories,” said Ignacio Ruiz, CCSD’s assistant superintendent of the English Language Learner Division. “You’re not only looking at diversity in demographics, but also in their preparation for school. We have kids who have received very good education before they come here to kids that may not have had a chance to attend school.”

That creates a lot of questions for teachers and administrators. How do you communicate with a parent who doesn’t speak English? How do you begin to teach a student who doesn’t know how to write in his or her native language? How do you relate to a student whose life so far is so very different from your own?

Life for refugee students

Once refugees arrive in the United States, the clock starts ticking. Before they even board a plane to their U.S. destination, their case will have been assigned to a resettlement agency. Within the Las Vegas Valley, the case will go to either Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada or the African Community Center.

A staff member meets the individual or family at the airport and brings them back to an apartment with a prearranged lease. They’ll have a meal waiting for them and go to bed. The work starts the next day.

The services provided by the agencies are funded largely by federal grants, so everything is governed by strict rules and deadlines, said Milan Devetak, resettlement director for Catholic Charities. Adults must be enrolled in an English-language program within 10 days of arrival, and students must be enrolled in school within 30 days.

“No time is wasted; you know, you kind of have to work fast,” Devetak said. “So once we take care of some of those basic needs immediately, make sure they have clothing and food, then we take (the kids) … for their health screening,” as well as immunizations.

Then the agencies contact Ouiza Weber, CCSD’s Refugee School Impact Grant coordinator. She’s the link between the family’s case manager and the school.

“We try to provide as many services as possible,” Weber said. She takes the kids shopping or provides a backpack full of school supplies. If a school requires a uniform, she arranges that. The English Language Learner department is also responsible for ensuring that tutors like Bash are there to provide after-school English lessons.

The services don’t stop with the child. The department also arranges for interpreters to communicate with parents.

“Our efforts are designed to build bridges between school, parents and communities (and) to facilitate communications that are normal for any other family,” Ruiz said. “We try to bring equity.”

Ruiz said that more often than not, he sees families that will “do whatever it takes for their child’s success.”

Why refugee enrollment varies

Certain schools have higher populations of refugee students than most others in the district, such as Valley High and Thomas Elementary, along with Snyder Elementary and Cashman, said refugee grant coordinator Weber.

The district doesn’t keep exact numbers because there is a high rate of transiency, Weber said.

Some schools end up with higher populations of refugee students because the resettlement agencies have relationships with specific apartment complexes. Apartments need to be affordable, as well as close to public transportation and shopping centers. If the agency is working with a family, the housing should be close to a school, too.

And then, of course, the complex has to be willing to work with the resettlement agency. Not all of them are.

“I can understand why,” said Devetak, at Catholic Charities. “They can’t really do (background checks) with our clients because they’re not here yet. We’re grateful to complexes that understand the nature of our work.”

ELL teacher Dena Jones, who has been at Cashman for eight years, said she has seen groups of refugee students form tight bonds as a result of spending so much time together at school.

One group included students from China, Iraq, Iran and Malaysia. That was several years ago. She still sees them from time to time and keeps in touch. Now they’re seniors.

“That group of students carried each other throughout high school,” Jones said.

Looking ahead

Challenges for students vary, but one still plagues newcomer students more than most: graduating on time. The district is doing what it can to help get students across the finish line.

CCSD is two years into its five-year ELL master plan, which is aimed at weaving English-language-learning skills into every classroom and overhauling the previous ELL program.

But then there are the refugee students who arrive in high school. Most “age out” before they complete their diplomas. There’s the option of moving to the district’s adult education program, but the district is looking into alternatives.

“We know that if you come in as a junior, you’re not going to graduate in two years,” Ruiz said. “Within the (master plan) part of that is to look at ways to give kids an opportunity to extend that time given to them … The reality is that they need more time.”

Contact Madelyn Reese at or 702-383-0497. Follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

Mojave Poppy Bees
Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list. (Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology)
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County educators debate alternative grading systems
Spring Valley High School principal Tam Larnerd, Spring Valley High School IB coordinator Tony Gebbia and retired high school teacher Joyce O'Day discuss alternative grading systems. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Grandparents on the fire that killed three family members
Charles and Doris Smith talk about the night an apartment fire took the lives of three of their family members. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
New York artist Bobby Jacobs donated a sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden
Bobby Jacobs, an artist from upstate New York, has spent much of the past year creating a sculpture of two separate angel wings. He donated the sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Weather will cool slightly through the end of the week
The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week., but highs are still expected to be slightly above normal for this year. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mayor announces new public-private partnership
Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, a public-private partnership that will allocate money to the city’s neediest.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Star Trek fans on show’s enduring popularity
Star Trek fans at the Star Trek Convention 2018 talk about why they think the show has stayed popular across the years Thursday, August 2, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like