World Relief organization partners up with ESL program to support students


Photo by Catherine Miller

The new program gives students a more welcoming environment to do schoolwork.

By Catherine Miller, Lifestyles Editor

An increase in relocated refugees has led to a  new program that is bringing together many different students and teachers.

World Relief contacted ESL teacher Mark Poulterer and told him about programs and clubs to help students with all their homework that have been established in other schools.

Recently, World Relief has been resettling more of their refugee clients in West Chicago because of a lack of space in some of the cities previously used by the organization.

“With that increase and focus in West Chicago, I wanted to start an after school club here so that our new arrivals would have some sort of after school support,” Children Youth Program Manager for World Relief DuPage Malita Gardner said.

The new club is focused around tutoring students who are new to the country and helping them to get to know the culture. However, the group also plans to do activities and games both inside and outside of the school.

“Once a month we actually want to take them out,” Poulterer said. “So maybe Cantigny or I know some kids wanted to do a baseball game.”

However, homework help and activities are not the only goals of the club. Other goals include relationship building, increased understanding of English, and more opportunities to build some background knowledge.

In addition to helping refugee students, the new “homework club” is also working with students from Poulterer’s ESL class.

“It’s been nice to have both the refugee clients and other ESL students in here which is a nice mix,” Gardner said.

The group requires volunteers to help and to spend time with the students. These volunteers include both students and adults, and they are helping to give the new program a solid start.   

“The response from people who wanted to volunteer with the refugees has been completely overwhelming,” Poulterer said.

Sophomore volunteer Alexandra Chwastek is enjoying the opportunity to get to know people with different lives than her.

“I think it’s really fun,” Chwastek said. “It’s more fun than it is work, really.”

Poulterer wants to emphasize to students that sometimes their preconceived idea of what it means to help a refugee is not always what it actually is like. A lot of times, students have an idea in their heads of what a refugee or a student who needs help looks like, but oftentimes, these students appear to be just like everyone else.

“There’s that whole romantic idea of helping that person who knows nothing, but the truth is that there are a lot of students in the school that need just as much help,” Poulterer said. “They don’t stick out as much.”

The club hopes to give support to all the students that need it. Poulterer feels the work that the club is doing is very important for these students.

“These students have a special place in my heart. I lived in Mexico. I know what it’s like to go to another country, to go through culture shock, to try to learn another language while living in a house where I couldn’t communicate with people,” Poulterer said. “And it’s really hard. I think a lot of people don’t understand how difficult what these kids are doing everyday is.”

As a student volunteer, Chwastek also sees the actions of the club in a very positive way and hopes the club will make students feel more at ease while at school.

“They don’t have the same opportunities that we have, and they’re just trying to fit in just like all of us are. But they’re not as privileged as we are,” Chwastek said. “I think it’s really important to make the school community and to make everyone feel comfortable.”

The program first met on Feb.22 and will continue to meet every Monday until the end of the year.