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ACE lends hand to African refugee children.

Byline: Sandy Meindersma

WORCESTER - While many children spend their Saturdays playing sports or hanging out with friends, a group of refugee children from Africa are spending their Saturdays in school, trying to catch up with their American peers.

Saturday School is one of several programs sponsored by African Community Education, a nonprofit organization founded in 2006 by Kaska Yawo, a refugee from Liberia.

Many of the students are from war-torn countries and spent a period of time in a refugee camp, where they did not receive proper schooling. When the refugee children come to America, they are often placed in school based on their age rather than their academic level, and they are often behind the rest of the class.

Saturday School includes instruction in English and math, extracurricular activities and a mentoring program.

The program, which operates at the Elm Park Community School, runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and includes breakfast, lunch and transportation, if needed. Students in Grades 5 to 12 are eligible, and attendance is required every week.

"When the program started, they initially went door to door to find students," Program Director Julia Kilgore said. "Now we have 80 students, with more on the waiting list."

Sept. 11 was a celebratory kickoff for the academic year, and the students and teachers met at Quinsigamond State Park. In addition to their usual studies, the students participated in field-day games and placed their handprints on a map of Africa.

"Saturday was a beautiful day," Ms. Kilgore said. "The students were really excited to be back at the program, and they had some great opportunities to get to know the staff."

Ms. Kilgore said the program receives its funding from a variety of sources, including the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation and the Office of Refugees and Immigrants.

"We also accept private donations," Ms. Kilgore said.

Besides Saturday School, African Community Education also offers homework help and academic tutoring at Elm Park School after school every day. The after-school program is open to students in all grades and is staffed by local college students, who also serve as mentors to the students.

"The after-school program is great, especially for some of the high school kids, who can't come on Saturdays," Ms. Kilgore said.



CUTLINE: (1) Students in the African Community Education's Saturday School program decorate a poster of Africa with hand prints alongside their home nations. (2) Adar Ahmed, 16, of Worcester smiles after decorating a poster of Africa with her hand print at the Saturday School field day Sept. 11.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 23, 2010
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