Sometimes the best comfort comes from a person who knows exactly how you feel. That’s what makes Sandy Jensen such an important friend in the lives of many refugee children.
“I remember when I first came to America, not knowing the language. On the first day of school my first observation was the smile on the teacher’s face and the willingness of other students to show me what to do,” she recalls.
Today, Sandy offers that comforting welcome to new students herself. She teaches third grade at an elementary school with a large population of refugee children.
“I met some kids last year who would cry for the first couple days because they were scared to death,” Sandy says. “Everything is new. You come in, school has already started, and you are learning rules about standing in line, being quiet, asking permission to go to the bathroom—a lot of these refugees have never used a real toilet or sink or running water.”
One of her students from Africa, named Uwazo, was struggling to learn English. With students like him in mind, the elementary school created an incentive program. Students are rewarded for good behavior, academic achievement, and effort with yellow tickets they can trade for prizes. Some of the most popular prizes are food and hygiene items.
Now that Uwazo feels more confident in his English lessons, he looks forward to teaching his father some day.
“I’m here to show them that they can be whatever they want to be, no matter where they start,” Sandy says.
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