Tan: Refugee Youth and Family Support Project

Tan, a 9-year-old refugee from Burma, attended our summer refugee academy and entered school in September. Tan had no problems interacting with his peers or following the routine of the summer academy. He seemed eager to go to school, and he was placed in a classroom with another Burmese youth.

The academic coach accompanied him to school on the first day and walked him to the classroom. Although quiet and timid, he sat down at his desk and appeared to be settling in. At the end of the day, however, the classroom teacher reported that he had become upset for awhile and cried. This behavior continued into the second day and deteriorated even further the third day, as he ran from the room and tried to leave the school. The school called our academic coach who immediately went to the school. Tan was in the front office crying hysterically and trying to escape the hold of the staff person restraining him. With the help of a translator, the academic coach was able to calm Tan down and convince him to return to his classroom. The teacher was puzzled that he became so upset over her directions, but felt that perhaps he was frightened at being separated from the only other Burmese child in her class, even if only for a few minutes.

Tan continued to have episodes of crying and difficult behavior over the next several weeks. He seemed to be having a very difficult time adjusting to school, and he made it clear that he did not want to be there. Academically, he didn’t seem to be learning. The academic coach visited him regularly at school. She also arranged for a therapist from Catholic Charities to meet with him weekly at the school. Slowly, Tan began to feel more at ease in his classroom. The crying episodes decreased and eventually disappeared. As he became more comfortable, his school work improved immensely. By the end of the first semester, Tan was interacting well with his classmates and making consistent academic progress. School is now a place that Tan wants to be, and we believe he has an excellent academic future ahead of him.