Facebook Twitter

SCHOOL TRIES TO HELP KIDS WITH THEIR NEW BATTLES

SHARE SCHOOL TRIES TO HELP KIDS WITH THEIR NEW BATTLES

Most of them do not speak English well enough to tell their classmates at Edison Elementary School about the horrors of their lives in Bosnia, but the atrocities are frequently depicted in their school artwork.

"When I come here, I draw about the war. I didn't know how to draw other things," explained Mesa Tatarevic, 9, a third-grader at the school.Like the 14 other Bosnian children who attend the westside Salt Lake school, Mesa's young life has been filled with fear and uncertainty. When he was 8 years old, he was nearly drafted into the war effort. "They wanted me to dress to be a helper," he said.

Slight of build, the blue-eyed boy appears to feel safe and comfortable in his new environs. Although he has lived in Utah only a few months, Mesa (pronounced me-shuh) has a strong command of English and is, on occasion, called on to assist other Bosnian schoolmates.

Other Bosnian children at Edison are not as well-adjusted. "Some kids cry because some kids got their mother or father lost in the war," Mesa said. "They were afraid to be in school. They didn't know what school is."

Edison, one of 40 schools statewide designated as highly impacted schools, has embraced the refugees, but its staff recognized early in the school year that the Bosnian children had unique needs they could not meet alone.

For starters, there is a language barrier. While the school can accommodate Spanish-speaking students, no one on staff could converse with the Bosnians in their native tongue.

Because of the four-year civil war in their country, many of the students have not attended school in three years.

"These students were absolutely terrified. Many of these kids have been in refugee camps. We have kids who have been abused, physically and in one case, sexually. Most of these children are Muslim, so they're used to a different routine during the day and different food," said principal Julia Miller.

Even the most basic instruction can be lost because of cultural and language misunderstandings.

"We had two children who ran home to use the bathroom and didn't come back because they didn't understand they could use the restrooms here," Miller said.

With the help of the International Rescue Committee, the school will offer an intensive two-week program to help the students better assimilate into Edison.

Jelena Pasalic, a recent Bosnian immigrant and parent of two Edison students, will facilitate the training, which will include teaching survival English, explaining the school routine and "helping them know they're not alone," said Miller.

The goal of the training is to ease the students into the classroom setting and encourage parent involvement at the school. Ultimately, Edison will offer English as a Second Language classes at the school for students and their parents in a cooperative effort with Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, formerly Salt Lake Community High School.

Like other refugees, Pasalic's emotion is raw as she speaks of her homeland and the war. She weeps for her mother who suffered a stroke yet went without adequate medical care. Then she recounts how she dodged sniper fire while wandering the streets seeking food for her children.

`There's no more life there. There's no safe place. Now I must fight to learn English and find a job to exist here," she said.

The school, which received a $114,000 highly impacted school allocation, will use part of its funding to launch the program. Another 12 Bosnian families are expected to move into the neighborhood by the end of the year, so Miller anticipates offering the training again later in the year for newcomers.

The program represents one of the most novel uses of the impact program, the brainchild of Gov. Mike Leavitt and approved by the 1995 Legislature. The program provided $4 million to 40 schools statewide to better serve at-risk students.

Edison also has used funds to provide additional counseling services at the school and to hire another sixth-grade teacher.

Although the highly impacted schools initiative received strong support during the last general session, lawmakers began questioning the eligibility criteria shortly after funds were awarded in May, vowing to revisit the issue in the 1996 session.

Stevan Kukic, director of at-risk students in the Utah State Office of Education, said program administrators are sensitive to the legislators' concerns and will refine the program when reauthorization is sought in the next legislative session.

"I think we're going to go for an increase in this. This increase would allow us to bring in 10 more schools," Kukic said.

Part of the difficulty in selling the Legislature on subsequent funding of the program, let alone expanding it, is documenting its successes and failures. Schools have only begun putting the funds to work.

Another complication is the wide variety of uses for the money, which range from keeping inner-city schools open longer hours to buying satellite equipment to improve distance learning opportunities in tiny Ibapah, Tooele County.

As such, recipients will document daily attendance figures against last year's numbers, track completion of daily assignments and review scores on end-of-level tests of core curriculum subjects.

Miller, aware of the scrutiny over the program, said the money has been judiciously spent at Edison. "The money has already made a huge difference in this school. We want to be prudent with it," she said. "I feel really strongly about it. It's been a real godsend."