Six-year-old Makai Majambere was born in a Zambian refugee camp and arrived in Kansas City in June. She had attended school on and off, but excelled enough to drop out of first grade when she started Global Academy in early September.
Her mother, Debora Muhirwa, 27, speaking through an interpreter, said she had seen her daughter’s confidence blossom before.
“When we got here, everything was new,” Muhirwa said. “Makai is smart, but she was shy and didn’t want to speak because she spoke little English. “
Sitting on the couch in the sparse living room where Muhirwa lives with her daughter and brother, Makai clings to her mother as a television broadcasts in the language of their native Democratic Republic of Congo.
When asked to share something she learned in school, Makai frees her mother, beams, and recites the alphabet.
Expect more refugees
The Biden administration announced this week that it will raise the cap on the number of refugees the United States will take in, fulfilling its campaign promise to reverse historically low numbers during President Trump’s administration.
In addition, Kansas City agreed to accept up to 12 hundred Afghans evacuated as US troops withdrew this summer.
Two of the area’s resettlement agencies, Jewish Vocational Services and Della Lamb, say they expect a wave of several hundred new refugees by December. The Global Academy partners with the two agencies, anticipates dozens of new students and has teachers ready to welcome them.
A new school in an old building
The Global Academy is housed in the Woodland Early Learning Center, which was built at the turn of the 20th century and is located on the east side of Kansas City. The building has the warm old-school feel, with light streaming down dark wood moldings through massive windows, walls painted in burnt orange and earthy grays.
Superintendent Mark Bedell said the new International Welcome Center is designed to help young students who have not been to school at all or whose education has been interrupted.
“There is anxiety, fear of the unknown,” Bedell said in an interview at the school’s official opening on September 17. “We recognize that these other factors often become barriers for our children to achieve all of their academic goals.”
Instructors are certified in English as a Second Language (ESL) as well as in early childhood education and the subjects they teach. Most are bilingual.
There are also social workers, counselors and interpreters on site to help families navigate the demands of their new life.
Engoma Fataki arrived in the United States after 17 years in refugee camps in Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia and immediately began classes in the Kansas City public school system at East High.
He said it was his childhood dream to one day walk through the halls of an American high school, but with very little education and understanding of English, the experience was overwhelming.
“I would be in a group of people that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to because I was afraid they would laugh at me,” he said. “Trying to adapt to a new culture was more difficult than I could have anticipated. “
The official opening
At the school’s official opening, Superintendent Bedell and Fataki joined Global Academy teachers and staff, school board members and community partners in cutting the ribbon at the entrance to the building. Behind them hung a long banner with the words “Register here” in English, Spanish, Swahili and French, just a few of the dozen languages the school anticipates it will eventually be able to accommodate.
Allyson Hile, Director of Language Services and Cultural Equity for KCPS, has worked in the district for over 20 years. She bit back tears as she spoke of the long journey up to this point.
“It’s an invitation, a promise and it’s a 60 square foot welcome mat for the refugees and immigrant families who come to our city and our schools,” she told a cheering crowd. . “And we’re going to be working alongside them as they write their American stories.”
With that, she invited school officials and community members to cut the ceremonial ribbon.
At one end of that ribbon stood Principal Ryan Rumpf, who said he had spent his career in language development and running this new school was a dream job. He speaks English, Spanish and French and is studying Swahili to better communicate with many of his new students.
“The goal (of the Global Academy) is to give children a soft landing when they arrive in the United States,” he said. “To teach them what school and life is like in Kansas City, and then hopefully get them back into their neighborhood school.”