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The School of Opportunity Knocks


‘Summer’ and ‘school’ — two words most kids do not want to hear uttered together. Unless, of course, those kids are sponsored by Liberty Bank Foundation grantee, IRIS. Then they are positively rarin’ to go.

IRIS, or Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, helps families from some of the most dangerous places in the world start a new life in the US. Most of the children in these families come here with little to no English and interrupted or no prior schooling. Even so, they must begin attending school here within one month of arrival.

So, IRIS summer school smooths the way. It’s the perfect time for these children to get a leg up on the language before they enter the classroom. This summer there are approximately 100 kids, ranging from three to 18, whose rapt attention is focused on learning (a form of concentration generally not seen in most children unless there’s a video game involved).

Volunteer teachers know it’s summer, so the studies are by no means sedentary. They use any topic as a way to animate the kids and get them talking in English … music, math, geography. This also builds bonds between kids who come from vastly different parts of the world and who speak 10 different languages.

Teens are the hardest to captivate, so to encourage better attendance, they choose their own curriculum. This year, the group agreed they want to learn more about careers, the US court system, math, and poetry. (Who’d have thought?)

Despite the summer crash course, it’s not all smooth sailing for newly arrived children. Many older children are responsible for working to contribute to family income as well as attending school full time. So, IRIS also provides volunteer tutors during the school year to work with children who are struggling.

On the flip side, there are stellar success stories … like the teen who arrived in the US knowing no English and qualified for advanced placement classes throughout high school. And the kids who’ve already gone through the program and return to mentor others. One lucky IRIS alum, a straight-A student, is now taking part in a Yale oncology program designed to get more teens excited about pursuing medical careers.

Thanks, IRIS, for everything you do to help families … not just to reach the US, but to ensure that they become part of our community.