Communities In Schools of Greater Phoenix, Ariz., Site Coordinator Frank Hernandez is passionate about giving students the opportunity to develop their potential. For the past two years, he has been helping students at Desert View Elementary School succeed inside and outside the classroom by organizing after-school sports camps, food backpack programs and even holiday assistance programs, to make sure families have Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas presents.
But Hernandez was recently presented with a new, unique challenge. Transitional housing was built next to the school last year and the site coordinator was suddenly faced with securing resources for seven children from Kenya, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“The kids had been in refugee camps in their countries,” Hernandez said. “Because of that, it’s like they are starting out brand-new at school, no matter what their age.”
The site coordinator has been working diligently to help the students adjust to their new classroom environment. For instance, a five-year-old from the new housing was recently enrolled at Desert View and was, as Hernandez described, “scared out of his mind.”
“The boy was thrown into school and didn’t know what school was,” he said.
But Hernandez knew that a key to feeling comfortable in a new place is having a friend. The site coordinator connected the young student with some older refugee children who were already familiar with the school’s structure and could relate to the new student’s anxiety. Hernandez let the five-year-old stay in a fourth-grade classroom with a student who could act as a buddy until he felt safe, comfortable and understood how everything at Desert View worked. Then, over a period of two weeks, the site coordinator slowly weaned the five-year-old from the older students’ classroom until he was able to thrive in the kindergarten classroom.
Hernandez has also taken his work with refugee students beyond school hours. The site coordinator has reached out to families and is helping them acclimate to life in Phoenix by connecting them with needed resources such as food, clothing and personal care items.
“I really enjoy being a site coordinator at this school,” Hernandez said. “We have a small school and one of the things I try to do is to create the most positive culture I can, to help people when they’re outside of their comfort zones.”