Over the past five years, hundreds of high school-age refugees have enrolled in the Borah Bridge/Boise State Service-Learning partnership. The powerful teaching-learning experience not only gives Boise State students experience working with refugees from around the world, but also gives high school students the confidence and courage to go on to college.
Thanks to the unique partnership, more than 30 former Borah Bridge students have chosen to attend Boise State and become Broncos upon graduating from high school.
Borah High School’s Bridge program, part of the Boise School District’s English Language Development program, serves students from around the world, providing English language learners with learning opportunities through collaboration with family, teachers, specialists, professionals and administrators.
Kara Brascia, director of the Service-Learning Program at Boise State, said the Borah Bridge program is a prime example of service-learning in action.
“Our dedicated faculty collaborated with Borah teachers to make this a rich educational experience for everyone involved,” she said. “The relationships and interactions between Boise State
students and refugee teens have made a measurable impact. Everyone is stretched and inspired. Our students learned course concepts hands-on, gained valuable skills and expanded their perspectives in so many ways. And it’s exciting to see the Borah students coming to Boise State.”
Molly O’Shea, an English language development teacher and consultant, credits the successful curriculum of the Borah Bridge program to Boise State faculty members Gail Shuck, Casey Keck and Michael Humphrey. These faculty have collaborated with O’Shea for more than five years. Together they have been awarded Service-Learning’s “Exceptional Partnership Award” to recognize the impact of their long-term partnership.
“Without their moral commitment to educate all students, our refugee and immigrant newcomers would not have received equal access and opportunities to the coursework and literacy skills preparing them for high school graduation,” said O’Shea. “The three remarkable educators are indeed social justice leaders and exemplary visionaries of how to partner Boise State University with public school programs, creating post-secondary education and career possibilities for refugees and other newcomers to America.”
Bridge students who work with Boise State service-learning students have much higher go-on rates; over the past five years, 83 percent of all Bridge students who had experiences with Boise State service-learning students went directly into a higher education institution. Service-learning students support and inspire their high school learning partners and help them imagine and create a bright future with campus tours, weekly contact and dialogue journals, and by helping them fill out their admissions paperwork, a daunting task for many high school students.
Boise State alumna Seoyeon Lee (BS, math secondary education, ‘14), served in the Borah Bridge program in spring 2013 and now teaches math at Centennial High School in the West Ada School District. Lee said as an international student herself, she worried that she might cause even more troubles for the students she worked with, but quickly realized that she had a unique and positive insight into the way other international students learn.
“From my service-learning experience, I learned my unique background can be positive when it comes to teaching mathematics,” said Lee. “I understand students’ struggles in learning mathematics better, especially with English language learners. I know if they need more help with mathematics concepts or if they just need to understand what a math problem is asking. More importantly, I learned some students just need a big smile from their teachers.”
Boise is one of the nation’s leaders in accepting refugees from around the world, taking in more than twice as many Syrian refugees as New York City and Los Angeles combined in just the last year. Boise State recognizes this trend and has created one of the nation’s only minors in refugee studies.
The Boise State campus is connected to refugee resettlement in many ways. More than 25 faculty incorporate refugee-focused topics in their courses, and students from 20 courses engage directly with refugees in the community through service-learning activities.
Several departments collaborate with refugee communities on research, including studies on public health, language documentation and resettlement success. Recently, Boise State students who arrived as refugees created the Boise State Refugee Alliance, a student group whose work reflects awareness and support to the refugees at Boise State University.