Nearly 4,000 refugee students attend Perry Township schools

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Wednesday was the first day of school for Perry Township on the city’s south side. As teachers opened their classroom doors, they were greeting nearly 4,000 refugee students.

Kids at Perry Township Schools speak more than 70 languages, and the district said the number of refugees has skyrocketed in the last 10 years.

Whitney Wilkowski, the Director of English Learning, believes most of the refugee students in the district are from Burma.

She said about 3,700 of the roughly 4,100 Perry Township students last year learning English were refugee students.

“A lot of our students are coming to us with some conversation in English but to learn academic language in English is very difficult,” she said.

The district has about 60 translators to help out. Her department also trains teachers who have students who do not speak English.

“Making things visual and having students collaborate and speak with each other so that language is not just spoken but also they are able to comprehend when they are listening, reading and writing,” she said.

It’s not just about learning the language but also adapting to American culture.

Wilkowski thinks it is also an invaluable experience for the students as some dress like their friends in cultural attire.

She said the district used to always offer PB & J as an option at the elementary schools but they realized some kids from out of the country did not like peanut butter.

They decided to offer rice bowls and students born in the United States were excited to try something new.

“We respect and appreciate the differences and it’s made us a better community because of the diversity we have here,” she said.

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