InClass

Julie Kasper: “Rather than follow scripted curriculum, we respond to the students’ immediate needs.” It’s dinnertime on a school night and the main room of CENTER is buzzing with middle and high school students from miles and miles away. The energy is so contagious and fluid that it’s challenging

Dec 18, 2017

 

Julie Kasper: “Rather than follow scripted curriculum, we respond to the students’ immediate needs.”


It’s dinnertime on a school night and the main room of CENTER is buzzing with middle and high school students from miles and miles away. The energy is so contagious and fluid that it’s challenging to differentiate between those serving and individuals being served. Albeit most volunteers and staff have name badges, their posture and energy lacks any trace of grandiose self-importance. Instead, one thing is instantly clear when you sit among the refugee students in the plastic chairs or cozy couches — sacrifice is present here.

National Board Certified Teacher Julie Kasper is the K12 School Coordinator for Refugee Education with Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest and the Director of the Collaborative Engagement to Nurture Talent and Educate Responsively (CENTER). Although she made the difficult choice to step out of the classroom in May 2014, Kasper has since shifted her focus, talents, abilities, and intellect toward the refugee community of Tucson.

“In essence, CENTER is a hub that brings people and resources together around refugee education to improve outcomes and experiences for all involved, including students, parents, teachers, and community partners. Rather than focus on deficits, we build upon the interests and talents of our diverse students and their diverse teachers,” the Tucson native says.

The reality of refugee life is much more complex than one might imagine. Not only is there a struggle to become acquainted with a new city and culture, but also there’s the reality that many of their loved ones remain in the country of origin. Equally important, education professionals need to better understand how to teach and work with this unique student population, many of which are registering for school for the first time in their lives. For this reason, CENTER, which opened in August 2015, provides a multitude of outlets for stakeholders to connect.

“Rather than follow scripted curriculum, we respond to the students’ immediate needs, interests, or requests through more individualized, volunteer tutor-supported instruction. We work as a collaborative with more than 50 volunteers and dozens of community partners, in dialog with local districts, schools, and resettlement agencies,” she says.

More than tutoring, CENTER is a place to grow. For many, it’s what makes the United States feel more like home. But the physical space wouldn’t be more than a building with conference rooms and offices if it weren’t for Kasper’s sacrificial and diligent leadership.

“There’s no end goal, per se, but in my dream world a place like CENTER is not necessary because people are connected and sharing resources. They would be open, vulnerable, and willing to solve problems together. That’s what I’m trying to cultivate,” she admits.

In the meantime, some of the intended outcomes are high school students graduating, learners feeling college- and career-ready, and families having access to help with a variety of applications, be they for schools, jobs, community opportunities, or financial assistance.

“We are creating space for everyone to become empowered and find their own agency within the role of the systems,” Kasper says.

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