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Refugee Families In Dallas Learn Back-To-School Basics

Every year, more than 600 refugee students are enrolled in Dallas schools. Many of them live in the Vickery Meadow neighborhood in Northeast Dallas. Monday morning, on the first day of class, some parents learned how to walk their kids to the bus stop and to school.

Outside the Ivy apartments are dozens of families who came as refugees from Burma, Bhutan, Iraq and Ethiopia. Some parents are walking their kids to the first day of school.

On Monday, they had some help from staff and volunteers with the International Rescue Committee, like Toe Bi Bae, who came eight years ago as an ethnic Karen refugee from Burma. He remembers what the first day of school was like for him and his two kids.

“We don’t know what to do,” he says. “So this our first day. We are worried about our kid. We are worried about ourselves.”

Now Toe Bi’s helping translate for parents like Tee Da Mo, who arrived from Burma with her two sons and daughter in February. They grew up in refugee camps. She says they couldn’t do this alone.

“I’m happy because they have a chance to go to school and they will learn,” Tee Da Mo says. “They can speak English.”

For some of these refugee kids, it’s their first time to board a school bus or attend school in a building. Some come with minimal education. That’s why it’s crucial to show them and their parents the safest and best way to get to school.

“We just want to make sure they’re using the crosswalks, they’re walking on sidewalks, they’re not taking any shortcuts or walking in the middle of the road,” says Daley Ryan, a case manager with the IRC.

What’s really special, he says, is seeing the entire community getting involved.

“Now when we come, we see other families who are helping their family members and helping their neighbors to show them how to do it, so if we can show a family how to do it the first time, there’s kind of a domino effect where the community is helping each other and it makes it easier on everybody,” Ryan says.

As the kids are dropped off, Tee Da Mo’s youngest son gets a little teary-eyed.

His teacher asks him, “Are you ready?”

He heads inside the classroom.

“Come on in,” she says.

Some first day of school experiences are universal.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.