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Student Corner

Going the Social Distance

by Jared Dwyer

I am an 11th grader at Miami Palmetto Senior High. Last January, a friend of our family told us that there were a few families from Syria whose children needed extra help with homework, and asked if we knew anyone who could help. So for over a year, every Sunday afternoon, my friend, Moutaz Talas and I drive to Homestead to tutor a group of Syrian children. The children range from 2- to 13-years-old. Their families are refugees who came to the United States for a safe place to live. Some of the children were born in the US, but others recall living in refugee camps. Their parents speak Arabic at home, thus they are unable to help the children with their homework. During the quarantine, we continue to check in and help with homework via FaceTime each week.

The best aspect about tutoring are the kids themselves. They are all so funny and unique. It is also very interesting to learn about their culture and their lives before they came to America, as well as seeing how they’ve assimilated to American life. They have tried to teach us Arabic but the two languages are so different, that we can barely say any words. I’m so impressed that they are able to speak and read as well as they do.

This brings me to the biggest problem we have found. The most difficult tutoring challenge is in helping them with their reading and English classes. They all do very well in math, science and social studies but struggle in English. The children grew up speaking Arabic so the transition to English is very difficult, and it’s especially hard since they are being graded the same as kids who have spoken English all their lives. To combat this issue, we have put a greater emphasis on helping them with English as well as providing them with the resources to study on their own during the week. We were going to go into their school to talk to their teachers to see what we can do specifically to help them with English, but we have been delayed because of the virus.

Besides tutoring them on Sundays, and prior to the pandemic, we organized a few collections for necessary school supplies. We had a party at the park for them and other Syrian families with kids. Our friends from Palmetto joined us in leading the kids in games, crafts, face painting and cookie decorating. It was so much fun and we’ll definitely do it again. We also brought some friends to a Syrian dinner, led by Refugee Assistance Alliance (www.refugeeassistancealliance.org) to help raise funds and educate our community about Syrian refugees. Finally, we plan to host a Syrian dinner. Again, the virus has delayed that, but we will plan a date for when we all go back to normal.

We look forward to going back to normal after social distancing measures are lifted. There’s nothing like hanging out with great kids, being served delicious snacks such as tabbouleh and baklava and wrapping it all up with playing basketball in the street. Hopefully, Lacey, Taz and I can get back to visiting them soon.

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