Newcomer is a term that describes any immigrant or refugee who has lived in a host country for a short amount of time, usually less than three years. Students who are newcomers face unique challenges in school in that they are also learning the culture here, the language, and overcoming any trauma they faced from unstable home countries or during the passage here. With the recent influx of migrant and refugee students into the Houston area, many principals and school districts are reporting a need for trauma-related mental health services for newcomer students.
CIS of Houston has now expanded the CIS Mental Health Initiative to include the CIS Newcomer Support Program which provides on-campus, culturally-aware, trauma-informed mental health services and referrals to Newcomer students. Our goal is to address students’ unmet mental health needs and help them integrate and succeed in their new schools.
The Newcomer Students at Northbrook Middle School
At Northbrook Middle School, the CIS Newcomer Mental Health Specialist, funded by Harris County Health Department Foundation- Children’s Health Fund, chose to engage newcomer students by leading them in an opportunity to do a service learning project.
The goal was to challenge the students in a way that would engage their natural intellectual and critical thinking abilities, integrate themselves to this new country, city, and community, and contribute to it in a positive way. The students chose the following projects.
Newcomer service group 1: Community Park Clean-up
One group chose to clean up a community park near several apartment complexes where many of Northbrook Middle School students live. The small student group met over the course of several weeks to plan a date, logistics, and materials needed for the park clean-up. With parent permission, some of the group members collected park litter into compostable bags for 30 minutes after school on an early dismissal day. Several other students on campus noticed the park clean up and watched as students collected and bagged trash that otherwise would have remained on the ground and the park was left a better place for the community.
An unexpected moment occurred several days later when a student who was not involved in the project, but who struggled with anger and violence issues shared that he noticed the students picking up trash that afternoon. The student said he felt bad because he was at that park a previous day with friends and his friends littered bottles in the park. After seeing the students clean up the park, he decided to go to the park on a different day and pick up trash himself!
Newcomer support group 2: Glasses Awareness and Anti-Bullying Campaign
The other group of newcomer students chose to do a campaign called “Northbrook Respects” to address shame and bullying around wearing prescription glasses by students at our school. The small group of students met for several weeks to plan the campaign. They created questions and interviewed students on campus who wear glasses. Then they created awareness campaign posters where they wrote some of the questions and answers from their interviews in English and Spanish, and posted them throughout the school. The campaign posters were placed in the cafeteria and 7th graders were invited to write their positive and supportive thoughts about glasses and to people who wear them on sticky notes and place them next to one of the posters. With CIS’ help at a short school assembly the students handed out non-prescription glasses to the entire 7th grade class who all wore the glasses to show support and solidarity with those who wear glasses every day!