"Ready In 5" Program Gets Refugee Kids Ready For School

By: Roger Hamer, Malorie Maddox Email
By: Roger Hamer, Malorie Maddox Email

Their families fled their country to escape persecution or violence. A program aims to get their children ready for Kindergarten in the United States.

"Stand on tiptoes way up high...paint your rainbows cross the sky. Claps!"

It sounds like a typical lesson for kids. All of the kids in this program are three to five-years-old.

"Three, four, five, six..."

From counting...to shapes...

"Rectangle, rectangle, octagon, octagon..."

But for these refugees-and their parents-it's the first time they are learning in English.

Moo Heh grew up in Burma, but wanted a safe life and education for her two kids.

Heh said, "Everything is much better if he goes to kindergarten."

The "Ready For 5" Program is through the United Way of the Midlands. It's gets refugee children ready for Kindergarten, both cognitively and socially.

"This program seeks to put them on a level playing field with kids in their class so they have a chance." said Nicky Clark.

Program Coordinator Nicky Clark says the parents learn as much as the kids.

For example, they teach the parents how to handle Parent-Teacher Conferences.

"Where they are from you don't question the teacher. It's disrespectful. So we have to reteach that and that it's different in America." said Clark.

This class meets once a week for an hour, but parents take home the skills to continue teaching their little ones. It's working

In 2012:

74% demonstrate improved school readiness skills
71% demonstrate improved knowledge of colors, letters, shapes
73% demonstrate improved social skills

Moo Heh has seen success with her kids. "Her teacher try to understand her and right now she is much better."

And for Nicky, the greatest reward is watching the kids light up.

"Can I have a high five. YES!" said Clark.

Heartland Family Service and YMCA of Greater Omaha go into the homes of refugees to provide these classes.

According to the Nebraska Department of Health, more than 60% of the recently resettled refugee population in Nebraska is from Burma. The largest concentration lives in Omaha.

The "Ready For 5" Program served:

2009: 274
2010: 187
2011: 268
2012: 465

The program also connects these families with other services they need in our community.

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