Inclusion Methods for Refugee Students into the Classroom by Kayonna Harper

Inclusion of Refugee Students in the Classroom

The global Refugee Crisis grows more and more existential as wars continue to rage and people are forced to uproot their lives… or lose them all together. There are already 65.6 million forcibly displaced people around the world, 22.5 million of those people being refugees (UNHCR, 2017). As people look to establish their lives, we as future educators should anticipate these students one day entering our classrooms. Educators have an humanitarian obligation to ensure that education persists as a tool of empowerment for children and people everywhere. This webpage will contain information and resources on the current Refugee Crisis and how to best support their transition to what may be their first formal school setting and ways to welcome them into your classroom and ensure their future successes.


The Current Refugee Crisis and Movement of Refugees

The world is currently in a humanitarian crisis. There are refugee emergencies taking place in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Groups of people like the Rohingya are also being displaced. What many of these countries have in common is mass amounts of political unrest; civil wars take place or people take the stand to fight against an oppressive government. Unfortunately, many of these crises have been occurring for years. The Nigerian crisis has marked its fifth straight year of occurence this year (UNHCR). In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a civil war had just ended in 2003 but new political and social unrest has created tensions again (UNHCR).


What many outsiders believe is that refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers immediately look towards distant countries thousands of miles away from conflict and that is simply not true. Many move into neighboring countries because that is all they can afford to do or they are limited by the care of small children or the elderly so that they cannot travel far. Over 50% of the world’s refugees come from Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan while the top hosting countries are Turkey, Pakistan, and Lebanon (UNHCR). What is ironic in a sense is that the Burundi people escape to the Democratic Republic of Congo yet the country is in turmoil itself. Many people have no place to turn but are incredibly desperate. The Rohingya people, for instance, travel thousands of miles through dense jungles and boat across the Bay of Bengal. Or, children from the Middle and Near East have been known to travel across the Mediterranean Sea alone without their parents, hoping to start again in Europe.

These refugee situations are often forgotten and the need to save others is heavily underfunded. The UNHCR gathers most of its funds from donations and voluntary tributes. In dire times, the UNHCR will go to governments to ask for additional financial assistance. The Democratic Republic of Congo crisis has only received a quarter of the funding the UNHCR crisis. Also, only 3% of the Yemen crisis has been funded. If you would like to help,



Donate Here


To gain a better understanding of the movement of refugees, the CREATE Lab by Carnegie Mellon has created an interactive map using international data to help people understand the traffic of migrating peoples around the world.




Making Inclusive Environments for Refugee Students

First, it is important to recognize the situation in which any refugee student is coming from. For some students, the first time that they step foot into your classroom is perhaps their initial introduction to formal education, period. Other students may have gone to school but their education was abruptly disrupted with the conflict taking place in their home country. Nevertheless, entering  a classroom after experiencing multiple traumatic experiences can be extremely overwhelming. It is important as the educator to create an inclusive and accepting environment for all students. Here are some ways on how to accomplish this goal:


For Teachers:

Start by educating yourself.

If you know that a refugee student will be coming into your class or if you simply want to stay prepared, start by educating yourself on the current situations around the world. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the best resource to stay up to date with all current refugee situations. They update their data consistently and have multiple resources and connections for educators to use. By educating yourself, you are taking the steps to remove any biases and/or judgements you have about any one group of people or situation. There is only so much that you as the educator can understand of a particular student’s background and it is crucial that their culture and personal experiences are not undermined. If you would like more information on the current situations, facts and figures, and educational resources, head to the UNHCR website.


Educate Your Students

Not only is it important for you to educate yourself but it is extremely important to educate the students already in your classroom as well. They are the frontline in the inclusive environment you want to create and by giving your students the needed background information to reach this goal, many problems can be avoided. Start by explaining the refugee crisis and ask if any of your students have heard any news regarding it. Ask them about their personal views on the situation. Starting here can allow for deep and meaningful conversations to take place and for ideas to be shared. In addition, many of your students will have questions. It is critical that you teach your students how to ask appropriate questions so as not to upset the incoming student or any other students who have immigrated to America.

This can be a hard topic to discuss in that you will not be aware of what an incoming refugee has seen and experienced or is willing to share with the class. Model what an appropriate question would be. For example, “What are some new cultures that you learned on your way here?” could be a good question. Avoid asking things like, “How many times did you relocate?” or “What was your country like before you had to move?” These questions can be triggering and may upset your student. It is up to you as the educator along with the student and their family to discuss any boundaries that should not be crossed. Also, make sure to teach your kids not to ask stereotypical questions about the incoming student’s culture. By limiting the amount of ignorance in regard to cultural and personal experiences, a more conducive, welcoming, and productive environment can be put in place. Should you ever find yourself in the need to teach your students about refugees, the UNHCR has great resources! There is a section just for educators that includes facts and figures along with definitions of the different types of refugees with animations. There are also lesson plans for teachers segmented by age groups for you to use in your classroom. Here are two links for resources through the UNCR: Teacher Toolkit and Teacher Resources.

Get Involved

There are many ways to get involved to help aid in ending the refugee crisis or helping them resettle should they be moving into your area. Ideas.Ted offers eight ways that you can help refugees in their resettlement process. Start by helping in your community and building relationships with the family outside of the school setting. You can volunteer with US Together which is a non-profit organization started in Ohio by refugees, for refugees. The organization offers multiple services to help resettling refugees get acclimated to American culture and customs, find jobs, and even teach English. There are offices in Columbus, Cleveland, and Toledo. You can advocate for refugees in the school setting by ensuring that these students receive the appropriate resources they need in order to succeed. Challenge your school district to become more inclusive and develop resources that all students can benefit from.


For Students:

Consistency is Key

Many of these refugee students have had their lives completely disrupted and shaken. They need a sense of organization and steadiness in their lives. Having classroom procedures and routines can help refugee students to feel more secure in their surroundings and quickly find a sense of belonging. Consistency within classroom management policies is also important. Some students may act out because they feel insecure or they may do things behaviorally due to the lack of cultural norms. Make sure to stay uniform in the way situations are handled and how and when consequences are given. All students will benefit from this sense of order.


Be Inviting, Open, and Understanding

For many refugee families, they have witnessed unimaginable and horrific things. Many students are trying to deal with abnormal amounts of stress at their particular age. You, as the educator, are the person that the student will spend the most time with throughout the school day. Build positive relationships with your refugee student so that they will feel safer and more included. Teach your students to be the same way!


Provide Resources and Opportunities for Growth

What is important to recognize is that as teachers, we do not have the qualifications or means to diagnose anyone particular student with a disorder. Should you feel that the refugee student in your classroom should be evaluated for PTSD, adjustment disorders or various types of stress, speak with the school counselor and the student’s family. It is important that they receive the necessary and appropriate resources to take care of the mental and emotional health. With that being said, refugee students want to learn about the new culture they will be interacting with along with build friendships with the peers in their class. Alculturation, the process of integrating personal values and beliefs with the new cultural identity being discovered, takes time (School Mental Health, 2017).Provide opportunities for them to socialize and build these much needed relationships. Allowing these students can help them to learn about American culture and customs quicker with the help of their peers. Plus, if the student does not know English or has very little vocabulary in the language, socialization will provide opportunities for the student to develop their English skills in real time. For more information on how to support the mental and emotional needs of refugee students, visit this UNHCR guide.


Parent and Family Opportunities

Parents and families of refugee students want to feel just as secure and welcomed in the school setting as their student does. By providing and building relationships with parents, you can gain background knowledge of the student’s situation and ensure student success. Give parents the opportunity to volunteer and help. Many refugee adults want to give back to the community that has helped them to rebuild their lives. Allowing these particular parents to help around the school can bring in new cultural views to the school and promote diversity. Advocate for refugee parents and families, as well. They are experiencing struggles and hardships, too. If at all possible, share any opportunities for employment within the school district or any other job offers you may know of. If you have a teacher with a TELLS certificate, see if they would be interested in teaching adults English after hours at the school as an accessible source for this crucial skill. By showing parents that you are not only invested in their child’s success but theirs as well, an overall positive school environment can continue to grow.


Supplemental Resources

For more opportunities for growth and to gain knowledge on the Refugee Crisis, look for literature, movies, or even simulations to help further empathize with these students. Here are a few examples:


  • The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah is a book for young adolescents that shares the story of Mina, an Afghan refugee who seeks safety in Australia. There she meets Michael whose parents are a part of a political activist group that does not want to accept any more refugees. Together they learn about how important it is to listen to the other side. Students can learn in a new perspective the struggles of a refugee and also view the politicized stance on the crisis.



  • God Grew Tired of Us is a documentary about the Lost Boys of Sudan. The film follows the lives of a particular group of men that get selected for resettlement in various cities in America. Even though the movie was made in the early 90s, students will still have the opportunity to learn about the refugee crisis and get actual visuals of what it is like to live in a camp and the struggles of resettlement.


  • Refugee” is a simulation or game that allows students to “get a sense” of the many obstacles refugees and asylum-seekers must face. This game was created on the MIT created website, Scratch, which allows students to code their own stories, games, and more.






Works Cited



Bouton, Bobette (2016) "Understanding the Unique Needs of Adolescent Refugee Students," Middle Grades Review: Vol. 2 : Iss. 3 , Article 6.

Melville, K. (2017, April 11). Inclusive Teaching for Refugee Students. Retrieved March 29, 2018, from

Sullivan, A. L., Weeks, M., & Simonson, G. (2018). Snapshot of the academic, social, emotional and motivational resilience of immigrant students. Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center. doi:10.1787/9789264292093-table9-en


Abdel-Fattah, R. (2016). The Lines We Cross. Sydney, Australia: Pan Macmillan.


Quinn, C., & Walker, T. (Directors). (2007). God Grew Tired of Us[Motion picture on DVD]. United States of America: National Geographic Films.


Dupere, K. (2017, June 06). Interactive map shows the global refugee crisis like you've never seen it before. Retrieved April 3, 2018, from

Fleming, M. (2017, October 09). 8 practical ways to help refugees. Retrieved February 12, 2018, from

Scratch - Imagine, Program, Share. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Missing Out: Refugee Education in Crisis, September 2016, available at:

United Nations. (2001). United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Retrieved March/April, 2018, from

US Together "Together we can make the world better" Together We Can Make The World Better! (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from