When refugee children need extra help with homework, there’s a place they can turn to in South Philadelphia – The Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative.
The Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative (PRMHC) was formed in 2011, comprised of resettlement agencies, mental health providers, physicians and arts organizations working to link refugees in to culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health care. The PRMHC is led by Liberty’s Lutheran Children and Family Service and uses therapy, support groups and arts projects to help families process past exposure to violence and current resettlement stresses. It has become a lifeline for refugees who are starting over, after surviving unimaginable trauma in their home countries. Now, you can add “Homework Help” to the many programs the PRMHC hosts from a reclaimed storefront community center on South 7th Street.
“The refugee families we work with amaze us with their resilience and generosity,” says PRMHC Program Manager, Melissa Fogg.
Teachers will tell you that homework is intended to encourage children to learn. It is assigned to help students review, apply, and integrate what’s been learned in class; to extend student exploration of topics more fully than class time permits; and to help students prepare for the next class session. Studies also show that parental involvement in a child’s learning is a key factor in that child’s achievement in school. So how does a student get assistance with schoolwork at home, which is integral to their school success, if mom or dad doesn’t speak much English or have the necessary education level? Program Manager Melissa Fogg and Case Manager Peggy Fulda say the problem is common within the refugee community. Each afternoon, anywhere from five to 30 kids stop by the PRMHC storefront for tutoring and socialization.
“A lot of it is for basic reading, writing and correcting homework,” Melissa explains. “They don’t have an English speaker at home to edit their work.”
The students are typically in elementary school, and Nepali, Burmese, Karen, Chin or Latin American, but the program is open to all children in the neighborhood who need some extra help.
“It was important to us that this drop-in resource belongs to the community,” Peggy says.
On this particular day, 9-year old Nancy sat with Peggy and a PRMHC intern to go over her math homework. Since the program was implemented this spring, the women say they’ve already noticed an improvement in the students’ comprehension level.
“There’s definitely improvement with reading and writing. They’re able to better structure sentences. It makes a difference,” Melissa says. The PRMHC has bilingual books for parents to use to help their children too, she adds.
“Homework Help” started as informal resource for children who needed some extra guidance, but the program has grown in such a short amount of time that Melissa says they desperately need funding for additional staff and support, such as school supplies for homework assistance and educational projects and after-school snacks. They also welcome volunteers who would like to devote their time and talents.
“Almost every parent moved here to the U.S. for the benefit of their children and their futures, and they are devastated when they cannot support them in the ways they need,” Melissa says. “We are so happy to help support them and their children in learning to navigate systems and succeed in their new environment.”