Volunteers to ambassadors

UND Honors students learn about experiences of New Americans by serving in local school

Robin David

Students in Robin David’s (above) Honors class extended an already successful “Resilient Youth Program” into East Grand Forks Public Schools, where no New American tutoring program existed. The program has been so popular that the school had to seek more space for students. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

When non-honors students petition to take an honors course, you know it’s going to be a great class.

That’s the case with Honors 372: Refugee Integration, taught by Robin David.

It’s a popular class, said David. Students learn about the refugee experience through discussions and service learning, including volunteering. They work with the Global Friends Coalition, a nonprofit organization which fosters refugee integration by working with New Americans and the Greater Grand Forks community.

David has taught the refugee integration class three times. In 2009, her students piloted the Global Friends Coalition Family Mentors and Adult Literacy Program, where they worked with new arrivals to help them acclimate to life in Grand Forks. In 2013 they piloted Global Friends Coalition Resilient Youth Program, where they tutored students at Red River High School.

Connecting with community

David’s goal is to cultivate leaders who make a positive impact on the world. The associate director of the Honors Program, she also works with New Americans as president and founder of Global Friends Coalition. “Service is my research, and the community is where I get experience and knowledge to teach about diversity and social change,” she said.

This year, the class extended the successful Resilient Youth Program into East Grand Forks Public Schools, where no tutoring program existed. The program has been so popular that the school had to seek more space for students.

“This class changed me,” said Joe Tusha, a sophomore political science and honors major who tutored students as part of the class. “Robin’s teaching is hands-on, and exactly what I need to learn. She’s productive and helpful, and she wants the best for you. She inspires service learning in all her students.

“People talk about refugees, but meeting and working with New Americans, changed my ideas and values so much,” said Tusha. “New Americans just want an education. They want the same things we do, and I want to help them get to where I am.”

“I see how much effort students put into this class,” David said. “Tutoring can be intimidating – you sit down with someone you’ve never met, and there are language barriers and cultural issues. I think they did great. Now they talk about other things and they’re friends.”

Tutoring was a great experience, said Tusha. “At first it was nerve-wracking. I had never met a refugee. It’s good to see their confidence grow. New Americans work harder in high school than I ever did, and it’s hard to watch them do homework that’s above their English comprehension.”

“The immigrant story is a beautiful and challenging experience,” said David. “It’s an example of what can be beautiful about the nation. There can be ugliness and tension along the way, but if you step back, it’s worked for hundreds of years.”

Joe Tusha, a student in Robin David's Honors 372 course on refugee integration, presents his group's project to improve the experiences of New Americans in the Greater Grand Forks community.  Photo by Tyler Ingham.

Joe Tusha, a student in Robin David’s Honors 372 course on refugee integration, presents his group’s project to improve the experiences of New Americans in the Greater Grand Forks community. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

Making an impact

Along with tutoring New Americans, the class broke into groups to develop possible new programs to better integrate New Americans into life in Grand Forks. One group developed a parent engagement program, another designed a civic engagement day camp to help New American youth connect to schools and Grand Forks; and the third designed materials to help students who are not refugees to learn more about New Americans.

The students presented their ideas to Global Friends Coalition representatives.

“I saw students who were engaged and sincerely want to help New Americans,” said Cynthia Shabb, executive director of Global Friends. “It was very positive.”

Shabb said that previous projects, such as the tutoring program, have been successful.

“Honors students are great role models in the high schools,” said Shabb. “New Americans gain confidence thanks to mentors like them.”

“This is the third time I’ve taught this course,” David said. “I shouldn’t be surprised, but it still moves me to read the students’ posts and see how passionate they become about immigration. They turn into advocates with their family and friends, and become ambassadors. It’s a powerful thing to witness – it’s beautiful.”

“Robin deeply cares about refugee integration,” said Shabb. “She wants students to have a window into what it’s like to be refugees. She models empathy and understanding. She has a huge heart for refugees – she wants them to have a positive experience and to be accepted.”

“I knew this class would be valuable,” said Tusha. “Robin wants others to benefit, and she wants to help others. I want that at UND.”

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