In March, Kamar Yussuf was finding it hard to keep up with her high school classes.
Even after months of online learning, Ms. Yussuf found navigating technology challenging, and because she doesn’t like talking in front of large groups of people, she often wouldn’t ask her teachers clarifying questions during class.
“For me, especially at school, when I had to do online school, it was really hard because I learn better when I’m face-to-face with the teacher,” said Ms. Yussuf, 18.
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Ms. Yussuf came to the United States from Eritrea with her family in 2014. She did not speak English, and she found the language barrier especially challenging at school, where it was hard to make friends without speaking the same language.
With the help of a teacher, Ms. Yussuf began to improve her English and now is a voracious reader — one of her favorite books is “Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver.
As the end of her senior year in virtual school approached, Ms. Yussuf was working on her English language skills with a teacher, who suggested that she participate in an after-school program at the International Rescue Committee’s Seattle office.
In Washington, students must complete an individual High School and Beyond Plan to graduate. The International Rescue Committee’s program, called Youth Futures, helps multilingual high school students prepare for this, and can connect them with academic tutors. The program also prepares high-school students for careers and higher education.
Ms. Yussuf, who lives about 25 miles south of Seattle in Auburn, distinguished herself as she worked through the program.
“Kamar had a lot of leadership in the Youth Futures program, just was a great support to her peers,” said Rachel Kurz, the youth and education program manager in Seattle at the International Rescue Committee, one of nine organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.
After Ms. Yussuf graduated, the Seattle team asked if she would be interested in working as a temporary summer teaching assistant in two local school districts. Ms. Yussuf applied and was hired, helping lead programs aimed at elementary students who had recently arrived in the country. Many of them had not yet attended school in the United States in person because of the pandemic.
“It was just amazing learning things from their culture,” Ms. Yussuf said, “and me teaching things from my culture.”
Ms. Yussuf said that many of the students were interested in how she learned English, and she was proud to be an example of what life in the United States could look like.
Support from The Neediest Cases Fund has been instrumental in the Youth Futures program’s success, Ms. Kurz said, noting that all of the twelfth-graders who participated last year graduated high school.
After an extended period of disrupted school because of the pandemic, supplemental programs have been especially important to parents and children. According to a report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., U.S. elementary school students ended the 2020-21 school year several months behind where they had been in previous years.
Monikqua Middleton of Brooklyn said the potential for learning loss motivated her to look for a program for her children, Shianne, 9, and Shaheem, 10. While they hadn’t struggled with online learning, Ms. Middleton wanted to take extra steps to make sure they had a smooth transition into the school year after the summer.
She learned that their elementary school would be hosting the Compass program, a summer and after-school educational program run by Brooklyn Community Services at five elementary schools and one middle school in Brooklyn. Brooklyn Community Services is another beneficiary agency of The Fund.
Ms. Middleton signed the children up for August programming, and their experience was so positive she enrolled them in the after-school program in September. She said that Shaheem and Shianne were often eager to tell her about their afternoon activities when she picked them up.
“They tell me new things that they learned that they didn’t know before and they want to show me new things, or they do paintings and then they come home with the paintings and they want me to hang them on the refrigerator,” said Ms. Middleton, 35. “I can tell that it’s definitely helping them.”
The children remain in the program in the afternoons, and Ms. Middleton will often run errands or pick up food for dinner. A single parent, she said she is grateful both for the assistance with child care and the homework assistance.
The Compass programs serve nearly 1,000 children in elementary schools in neighborhoods like East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick. Projects and activities touch on literacy, the arts, math and science.
“They’ll make sure that they get all their homework done and they’ll go over it with them,” Ms. Middleton said. “It helps me because that checks off one of the things on my to-do list.”
As for Ms. Yussuf, who recently started her first year at Green River College in her hometown, her summer work was so influential that she decided to major in education and pursue teaching as a career. Her goal is to work with the International Rescue Committee again.
“It was amazing for me,” she said about her experience. “It changed my life.”
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