Refugee summer school: Improving opportunities through research partnership

June 21, 2017

Carrie Symons works with immigrant and refugee youth in Lansing.

When education researcher Carrie Symons joined the faculty at Michigan State University, she knew she wanted to increase activism in her work. So it didn’t take long before she reached out to the Refugee Development Center (RDC) in Lansing.

Leaders of the center—which provides services to nearly 2,400 refugees a year—share her mission: to improve literacy and language development for young people learning English.

Symons started volunteering there once a week, offering some of her expertise for teaching emergent bilinguals and learning about the community’s needs. She and her husband  hosted a fundraiser for the RDC at their home. And Symons received a grant from the American Educational Research Association (AERA) to fund the center’s first outside evaluation of its youth education programs.

Symons and her team spent a few weeks during summer 2017 immersed in observing the RDC’s summer school program for 70 of Lansing’s young immigrants.

“We know that schools alone can’t be responsible for their success,” said Symons, noting that nearly 600 refugees are resettled in the city each year. “We want to know what students are learning about the world and the community through this program.

“We also want to create the foundation for a long-term partnership that ties research with practice.”

GLOBE Camp & global changes

Carrie Symons

The summer school, Gaining Learning Opportunities Through Better English (GLOBE) Camp, has been offered for over 10 years. Middle- and high-school students experience five weeks of classroom lessons and field trips with a focus on growing English skills while sustaining their own literacies and cultures. They also learn about peer relationships and the local culture.

“When you’re in the middle of developing a program, you don’t always have time to step back and see how you’re doing,” said RDC Director Erika Brown-Binion. “Based on knowledge about curriculum development and program design, the MSU researchers will take a fresh look at what we are doing really well and where there might be some areas for improvement.”

AERA is funding the MSU and RDC partnership as an Education Research Service Project, which encourages researchers to offer their expertise on a pro bono basis to organizations in areas where research can matter.

Christina Ponzio, a doctoral student in the Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education (CITE) program, is working with Symons. They will produce a written report of their research, including an action plan for improving curriculum, instruction and volunteer training.

“Change happens person by person,” said Symons, who hopes to expand, not limit, opportunities for refugees and immigrants in the United States. “I don’t want to look over my shoulder and wish I would have done something more.”

Campus connections

Photos courtesy of Carrie Symons and the Refugee Development Center.

The College of Education’s Office of International Studies in Education recently hosted a major conference focused on addressing inequalities in the context of growing mobility and dislocation for populations around the world.

The MSU Residential College in the Arts and Humanities also partners regularly with the Refugee Development Center, and hosted an on-campus portion of the GLOBE Camp for the first time in 2017.

Learn more about Symons and her work with RDC in a Faculty Voice on MSU Today