Buffalo State Community Academic Center Offers Enrichment Programs for Refugee Youth

Min-ga-la-ba, ahlan, muraho, and jambo are all greetings that you might encounter at the Buffalo State Community Center (CAC) at 214 Grant Street. At times, the room seems to be bursting at the seams with laughter and the high-pitched squeals of school children. This is intermingled with the sound of foreign accents trying to use a foreign-sounding syntax and diction.

The CAC opened its doors in 2011. Its founding mission was to coordinate and anchor cradle-to-career educational support programming for youth on Buffalo’s West Side. While the center’s mission has not changed, its programming has evolved over time to meet the needs of the growing refugee population in Buffalo’s West Side The best example of this is the center’s summer program called Buffalo Beginnings.  It started off as a four-week program geared towards refugee youths that had just arrived in Buffalo. Since then it has expanded to include an after-school program with the same objective, which is to help refugee youths gain fundamental English language skills.

With over 80 different languages being spoken in the Buffalo Public School system, it is impossible for one teacher to meet the needs of a class full of students that may speak up to ten different languages. These new American children can be an invaluable asset in Buffalo’s efforts to rejuvenate and revitalize a place that was, at one point, America’s third poorest city. That being said, the only way the city can harness the positives associated with this influx of refugees is if Buffalo nurtures and supports these newly-arrived youth. In order to produce a new generation of civically-minded citizens, every child needs access to quality education regardless of their country of origin.

That being said, the only way the city can harness the positives associated with this influx of refugees is if Buffalo nurtures and supports these newly-arrived youth

As mentioned above, language barriers, coupled with pre-existing disparities inherent in Buffalo’s public school system, pose an ongoing challenge. To combat these issues, the CAC is taking a grassroots and progressive approach to fill in the gaps to ensure that refugee children do not slip through the cracks. One child and one family at a time, the center helps new Americans gain the skills necessary to succeed in their new home. Buffalo Beginnings is not just about teaching the kids their ABCs, and 123s. The curriculum is a holistic tool box aimed at preparing students that may have never learned English or been exposed to the norms of a formal education. The education coordinator of the CAC, Win Min Thant, mentions Buffalo Beginning is more than just an English class; it is about exposing the kids to the culture, nature, and art surrounding them in Buffalo. On Friday the 21st, the class visited the Tifft Nature Preserve and they also have plans to visit the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Niagara Falls.

The CAC’s Buffalo Beginnings class of 2017 includes 25 students fleeing hardship and conflict from all corners of the globe. They hail from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Bhutan, and Somalia to name just a few. Some have arrived in the United States as recently as July 6, 2017. The questions of when, why, and from where they have arrived can help in better understanding these new Americans, but the most telling question is who are these children. They are of course all different from each other and all complex individuals, but they do have some things in common with all other children, which is that they are energetic, enthusiastic, and bursting with potential. All they need is a helping hand— and the CAC is just one of those hands, on Buffalo’s West Side.

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