Students Assist Refugee Families in Learning English

Students and teachers

School of Information Studies alumna Sarah Bratt, standing center, and Syracuse University graduate student Janet Morgan, standing at left, assist students with their ESL studies.

Ten Syracuse University students helped new refugees and their children become a little more familiar with life in a new country this past semester.

The students, along with other community volunteers, assisted in teaching English as a Second Langauge (ESL) classes to 20 refugee parents and their children at the Refugee Resource Center at the First English Lutheran Church in Syracuse.

Mandy Zheng and toddler

Mandy Zheng, a senior in the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, shares play time with a youngster during the ESL program.

The class—Learning to Read, Families Together—was the first educational offering of the newly established Refugee Resource Center, established by Lutheran Campus Ministry’s interfaith service learning program, STEP Center, says the Rev. Gail V. Riina, Lutheran chaplain for Syracuse University and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, as well as STEP Center director.

The program was offered in partnership with the First English Lutheran Church and Syracuse MetroNet Inc., a multimedia network that connects government and non-government organizations. The class was funded by a Literacy Champions Grant administered through the Literacy Coalition of Onondaga County.

The goal is to promote individual and community development with a focus on digital resources, Riina says.

Luke Delasin and student

Luke Delasin, a senior in the Falk College, spends some fun time with a student of the ESL class.

The English language learners were taught using an innovative curriculum with Reading Eggs software and Imagination Books developed by ESL instructor Otilia Mulvaney.

The students assisted the ESL teacher with English language and learning classes for refugee parents, assisted with the program’s opening intergenerational session and provided instructional play with the toddlers, Riina says.

The families graduated during a ceremony on Dec. 11.

This semester, two classes will be held for Digital Literacy for English Language Learners, one for beginners and one for intermediate-level English speakers in cooperation with Syracuse Libraries. Students interested in helping can contact Riina at

ESL class participants

Student volunteers and other participants in the ESL program for new refugees at the Refugee Resource Center celebrate at the graduation event in December. From left to right (front) are senior Mandy Zheng and Samuel Mbajah. In the back row are Sarah Bratt, a School of Information Studies alumna and research assistant at Syracuse University; ESL instructor Ottilia Mulvaney; the Rev. Gail V. Riina; Mamadou Djerma, SUNY ESF alumnus; Syracuse University graduate student Suehyeon Lee and Hsa Law Eh Soe, a Karen family support intern.


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