Editor’s Note: Due to security concerns we’re only identifying students by a single preferred name in this article.
More than 100 students who fled Afghanistan are now getting back to school as they settle into their new lives in Oklahoma.
This past year, around 1800 Afghan refugees arrived in Oklahoma. Many of them were children in need of an education. EPIC Charter Schools partnered with the Spero Project and Catholic Charities to ensure the students got a chance to learn.
The Spero Project is a nonprofit that welcomes new neighbors that are moving into the Oklahoma city area. Often, these news neighbors are people who have had to be displaced from their homes due to extreme circumstances such as war.
Most of the 140 students currently enrolled at EPIC arrived in January of 2022 from Afghanistan. Most of the families are still living in hotels as more permanent housing is being worked out. The Spero Project has provided space to bring in EPIC educators to provide blended-learning for the new students. Once they move out of the hotels they will be transferring to their long term housing, then they will transfer to their neighborhood school.
For some of the students, EPIC is the “in between” school. Once families get settled in long-term housing many students will be transferring to their neighborhood school.
However, the older high school kids will mostly stay with EPIC so they can do intensive study to prepare them for graduation. The students are enrolled in all your basic classes. While EPIC students have many options for curriculum and course, the primary focus is getting these new students settled and working through any language barriers.
“It has been very exciting for me living in Oklahoma. Here everything is new, and everything is different from afghanistan. Culture, environment, everything is good. All of the people of Oklahoma, they are very hospitable, and they are very kind. I like all of the people, and the environment is good,” Qais, a high-school senior, said.
Some students speak English because they learned multiple languages in their private schools in Afghanistan. So school is similar, even if the circumstances are different.
“In Oklahoma city it is very good here it is a very good city. We meet lots of people they are so kind, and actually the situation is very good. It just the weather is a little weird, but all of it’s okay and good. We are good here, I’m happy,” Maryam said.
EPIC has provided teachers and administrative staff to help guide the students through the American education system.
“We are very happy to join the Oklahomas society. They are very hospital people welcoming us very well and just a lot of times from Ms Misty [Misty Kline, EPIC’s Family and Language Assistance Coordinator] helping us with the education system and provide us a good curriculums,” Behroz said.
All the students said they were pleased with how welcoming everyone has been in the community. They are eager to get out of temporary housing so their families can find jobs and more reliable transportation.
“We just faced very many challenges like when we migrated from Afghanistan till we reached Oklahoma we faced many challenges, many struggles, problems. Now we are very happy from everybody, that they are helping us,” Behroz said.
The culture is a little different from Afghanistan, but the students say they are adapting.
“The culture [is] a little different for us and we don’t know about the culture and what has happened here like this and we will try to learn and the culture of the United States and Oklahoma city,” Qais said.
“American people love big things they buy big houses, big cars, and all of them are working from the teenagers from the guys that are at the school they are all working, and everybody is hardworking for themselves. And there are a lot of things we also should learn from Amerians there are some things we should learn from them: how they are living, how they are kind, how they are helping each other. This is all things everybody wants and we should learn the way of being united, thank you,” Behroz said.
Some of the students have no prior experience with education. Others were able to go to private schools in Afghanistan, but their lessons included less access to technology than they have with EPIC.
“Yes EPIC Charter School is very different from our school. In Afghanistan we go to school and we a study the book, we do our lesson on the book we have book, and a we didn’t work with computer we didn’t do our work our lesson on computer. And one of the most different things from EPIC Charter School from our school the first one is we can our lesson by computer, we can do assignments, everything by computer. In Afghanistan we did our assignments on the notebook and we study the lesson book. If we want to study a lesson we study from books, and there is no lesson on the computer, and this,” Qais said.
Culture is one of the challenges, language is another.
“Most of the students there at the center do not speak English like these [students being interviewed],” Misty Cline, EPIC’s Family and Language Assistance Coordinator said. “They have to learn English from the very beginning, and some of them know how to read and write some, but they don’t aren’t able to understand our Oklahoma accent exactly.”
Students like Qais are the exception. They have a strong grasp of English and in some cases, other world languages as well. The Spero Project and EPIC have translators available in the school setting for those students who need more help.
“It’s not so hard for us to communicate in a society, because almost all of us have studied english. Most adults don’t have problems communicating with society, and how to communicate with the people. All of the people, almost they have problems, because they did not study english before in Afghanistan, and are now in a different language in America. It can be a little difficult for them to how to communicate with people,” Qais said.
Right now the students are hoping the United States Congress will pass the Afghan adjustment act. The legislation is important because it will help the refugees become more permanent members of the community.
For the new EPIC students and soon-to-be graduates, Congress will need to act before they can continue their education. Things like the Oklahoma Promise program, college scholarships and even financial aid for higher education are all in limbo right now because of the political delays.