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MPS educators say students thrive in unique program for refugees

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) - There's a unique educational program within Milwaukee Public Schools that you've probably never heard of before, and educators say it’s making a big difference in the lives on students.

It's called the International Newcomer Center and the students in the classrooms all come from vastly different backgrounds.

The students in Erin Sivek language arts class are not your typical Milwaukee Public Schools students.

"The primary languages that we have our Royhingya, Swahili, Malay, Karen and this year we also have Somali,” Sivek said describing the diversity of languages spoken in her classroom.

She teaches English language arts to recently arrived refugee students from across the world at the International Newcomer Center in Milwaukee inside the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese language, which started a decade ago.

The 4th through 8th grade students can stay in the program for up to 2 years because of the Civil Rights Act.

The program puts an intense focus on the language and culture needed for refugees to successfully transition to high school.

"They are often very excited to be in school because our program is so specific for this population,” Sivek said.

The principal, James Sayavong, can personally relate to the challenges these students face when they arrive in the U.S. because he himself is a refugee who arrived in Milwaukee in 1983 from Laos.

And Sayavong knows the key to success for newly arrived refugees.

"The family support, the hard work. Beyond the language, you have to work hard every day to be successful, but I can see with their hard work with our great support from our teachers and staff they can excel,” Sayavong said.

Sivek says she's very proud of the work she does every day and for many of these students it will have a huge impact on their future.

"The first student I ever taught from Tanzania, who he hadn't really written before in any language,” Sivek said. “He didn't attend much school and when he was here everything was brand new to him. He was the only person of his language background and he's currently in college."

New refugee families arrive throughout the year so typically they start the year with 30 students and have about 100 by the end of the school year.

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