Some refugee students at Boise’s Hillside Junior High School remember the schools in their homelands — where teachers hit their students, or where teachers feared being hit by students.
Then there are the refugee students who have spent little time in any classroom.
“You have to learn how to be a student,” said Rita Hogan, a teacher in Boise’s English Language Development program. “And that’s tough, when you’re a seventh-grader, and you’re learning algebra.”
Tucked against the fringes of the Boise foothills, Hillside is home to one of the district’s Bridge Programs. The programs provide intense English language training to newcomer students. Depending on how much help they need, students may be in the program for up to two years. Occasionally, students are kept in the program longer.
The bridge program isn’t open only to Boise’s 1,019 refugee students, who come from 45 countries and speak 73 languages. But many of the refugee students need to overcome more barriers than just their language.
Many arrive at Hillside scarred and scared — overwhelmed by their new surroundings and unsure how to interact with their new classmates.
“I just watched,” said Eric Bengana, an eighth-grader from Burundi.
“It was good if they looked at you,” said Zaid Al Aayedi, an eighth-grader from Iraq, speaking of his new Boise classmates. “They want to get to know you more.”