By Samantha Dietel, Current Staff
Not long ago, local student Olivia McClain was reading picture books with Syrian refugees.
McClain and Alina Prahl, seniors at the West Bend High Schools, are performing volunteer work for SEA Literacy, an organization based in Milwaukee that provides tutoring for refugee children. This act of community service is an effort to fulfill the girls’ service learning requirements necessary for achieving the Global Education Achievement Certificate when they graduate this spring. McClain began volunteering for SEA Literacy several weeks ago, while Prahl experienced her first visit with the children Saturday. The girls wish to bring greater awareness to the current question of refugees while educating themselves about the assimilation process that incoming refugees face.
According to McClain, SEA Literacy rents out part of the Neighborhood House of Milwaukee on Saturday mornings and Tuesday nights for volunteers to help tutor refugee children, some of which have only just arrived in the U.S. Children from Syria, Myanmar, Eritrea and the Congo are all included in SEA Literacy’s program.
During her first visit nearly three weeks ago, McClain worked with three boys from Syria and a girl from Eritrea, but not all of the time was spent focusing on literacy.
“We went downstairs into a playroom because they were like 4 to 7 years old,” McClain said. “We made block towers, we read picture books and got them to work on their English, but mostly we just played with toys and dressed up, and it was so fun.”
“My dad taught math to some little kids from Syria,” she added. “That was kind of difficult because they were all just going really fast and helping each other out, but he had so much fun.”
“We made block towers, we read picture books and got them to work on their English.”
– Olivia McClain
McClain also learned of some of the children’s traumatic experiences prior to entering America.
“Some of them have been through the worst things, like the refugee camps and all the horrors of it,” she said.
During Prahl’s visit to the Neighborhood House Saturday, she worked with a young Burmese girl who escaped with her family from the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. Much of their time together was spent playing games, coloring and practicing writing.
“We decided that one of the most beneficial things we could do for this community was to increase awareness about refugees and their process for becoming a citizen, and in general how they assimilate or adjust into American life,” Prahl said.
In addition, McClain and Prahl are planning to do more regarding this topic. According to Prahl, they are considering the possibility of bringing a guest speaker to WBHS. Prahl also plans to use the West Bend Current for their cause.
“I’m working on an editorial explaining what we’re doing, raising awareness, just generally bringing more information into the community,” she said.
Both girls are currently members of the Global Scholars club, which is advised by West social studies teacher Mark Drake. The Global Scholars is a group that formed at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, and consists of students who wish to attempt the Global Education Achievement Certificate.
“The purpose of it is for students who are interested in a personalized experience in the global sphere,” Drake said. “So this is for students that want to learn something about economics, or politics or culture on their own.”
One of the requirements for achieving the certificate is to complete at least 20 hours of community service for a single organization and reflect on the experience afterward. To complete this, Prahl and McClain chose to work with the SEA Literacy organization.
There are other requirements for achieving the certificate, too. According to Drake, high school students must take four years of a foreign language and pass each with a grade of B or higher. Additionally, they must pass a minimum of four credits of what are considered globally-focused classes. Class options include Honors English III, AP Environmental Science, world affairs, global studies and more.
Also, students aiming for the certificate must take part in at least four co-curricular activities that bear a connection to global issues. They must also complete eight pieces of global literacy, which includes book reviews or other cultural experiences.
“We meet on Thursdays during resource time, but once every three weeks,” Drake said. “So students should sign up on their Flexi if they’re interested, or come in and talk to me or another member.”
(Top image: Alina Prahl, right, and Olivia McClain outside of the Neighborhood House of Milwaukee Saturday. Photo courtesy of McClain. The Global Scholars logo was designed by East junior Calliana Wickus. Image courtesy of Mark Drake.)