Boise scales back refugee education program

The Boise School District is scaling back one of its programs designed to help refugee students make the transition to a new school in a new land.

The reason: Fewer refugee students are coming to Boise.

For several years, the Boise district offered a “bridge program” at Borah High School — to provide extra language instruction for refugee students.

“Unfortunately, the district has seen a dramatic decline in refugee students in the past few years,” the district said in a statement. “At one time, nearly 200 students participated in the Bridge program; in 2018-19, fewer than 40 students are projected to be eligible for services.”

For years, the Boise School District has offered special programs for new refugee students, such as this program at Hillside Junior High School. The programs will continue, but Boise is urging high school students to enroll in their neighborhood school, instead of attending a “bridge program” at Borah High School.

The district isn’t eliminating the Borah program outright. The program will still be available, and bus transportation will still be available to students who want to enroll. However, the district is encouraging refugee students to enroll in their neighborhood high schools in 2018-19.

The district says it will push services into neighborhood high schools, including language instruction. And the district says the change will make it easier for refugee students to take part in sports, extracurricular activities and clubs, without losing time in the school day to take a bus to Borah.

“Some Bridge students and parents have requested to attend their neighborhood school for several years,” the district said in its statement.

The Boise School District will also continue its bridge program at Hillside Junior High School. (Click here for a 2016 Idaho Education News article focusing on the bridge programs at Hillside and Borah.)

As refugee families arrived in Boise, and refugee students began arriving in Boise schools, district officials saw the bridge program as a way to help students learn English — and make the adjustment to a new and unfamiliar school environment.

In a 2016 Idaho Education News interview, Borah math teacher Laura Boulton described her work with the 90 refugee and immigrant students in the Bridge program. Sometimes, the work focused on getting students caught up on academic skills — although some bridge students were starting math from scratch, while others had taken pre-calculus courses in their homeland. Sometimes, her job was to help newcomers navigate life beyond academics, from picking a cell phone package to planning for the prom.

The number of refugees arriving in Idaho has dropped sharply in 2017-18, the Idaho Statesman reported in April. But before that, Boise had been a hotbed of refugee resettlement in Idaho, as was reflected in student numbers.

In 2015-16, 1,019 refugee students attended Boise schools, including 182 students from Iraq, 116 students from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 96 students from Kenya.

Click here to read Idaho Education News’ 2016 series on refugee education.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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