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Helping Child Refugees in School Through Creating Books

Joy Powers
Lynn Sedivy at Milwaukee’s Academy of Chinese Language.";

Refugees from a myriad of countries have been resettling in Wisconsin for decades. Some come from war-torn countries like Syria or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Others are fleeing religious or ethnic persecution, like the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar. Most have had their educations disrupted in their home countries or during their time in a refugee camps.

Coming to school after so much turmoil can be difficult, especially since many do not speak English when they first arrive. Lynn Sedivy, an early childhood education professor at UW-Milwaukee, helps new arrivals navigate their new school in the city by creating books. She works with kindergarten to third grade students to make picture books of their new school.

Credit Joy Powers

"The best place to start is to use photographs of places in the school and repetitive language to talk about those places and have them take pictures of where they're going all day long so they have some understanding or control about where they're going all day each day," Sedivy explains.

Even though the student's English language skills vary from simply tracing sentences to writing their own, these books serve as an individual marker of new beginnings and growth in their vocabulary and basic literacy skills.

"It’s a book they get to take home about their new school - often it’s their very first school in the United States.  So I want them to be able to take that home and hold on to it as a memory," says Sedivy.

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.