The Passport Leadership Team (PLT) is a cross-sector group of student support professionals and system leaders. About 35 members represent the following groups:
- High school completion and college access programs such as SETuP, Treehouse and Independent Living Services programs
- Two-year, four-year, public and independent colleges
- State agencies such as the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC); the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI); the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF); and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance
- Current and former students
All members work with or for students from foster care, supporting them to access and succeed in higher education. The group meets four times a year to advise WSAC on matters related to the Passport to College Promise program and to advance effective student support strategies through training and networking. Quarterly meetings are a full day with the second half of the day focused on training and capacity building.
The PLT gathered for the first time this academic year on Monday, September 10 at the Pacific Tower in Seattle. Morning agenda items focused on welcoming and on-boarding new members and reviewing the PLT’s annual work plan and deliverables. Before lunch, Dawn Cypriano-McAferty and Becky Thompson of WSAC delivered an hour-long presentation on implementation of the Passport to College expansion.
But the crux of the meeting was the afternoon session when a panel of experts presented on the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program, often referred to as Federal Foster Care. This presentation was timely, as students with URM status are newly eligible for Passport as of July 1, 2018.
The first presenter was Molly Daggett, Program Manager for the URM program at DSHS’ Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance. Molly oriented members to the history, mission and scope of the program and presented demographic information to describe what countries URM students come from. While young people come from well over a dozen countries which change depending on international events and American immigration policy, the largest groups of students are currently from Myanmar, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras and Eritrea. Molly also presented a high-level summary of supports and services provided to URMs. You can find her full presentation here.
Next, Max Savishinsky and Dawa Sherpa from Lutheran Community Services NW’s Refugees Northwest Foster Care program provided insight from the direct service provider perspective. In addition to a detailed overview of their program, they provided best practice recommendations related to supporting URMs in higher education. For example, they stressed the importance of keeping communication— especially emails—simple, and to conduct personal follow up to ensure students understand instructions. Schools often send students dense emails with complex instructions on how to register for classes, submit financial aid documents and other critical processes. For students who are learning English, these communications can be totally overwhelming. Dawa explained that her team members spend a significant amount of time helping students understand email communication and step through administrative processes in order to meet financial aid, registration, academic placement, and other requirements and deadlines. You can find their full presentation here.
The final speaker was Patience Sula, a senior at Eastern Washington University majoring in Social Work and a URM student originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Patience shared his personal story about coming to the United States and the Northwest as a teenager after fleeing violence in his home country. He described his challenges and successes as a high school student while learning English, adjusting to a foreign culture, re-establishing connections and supports and taking classes with the goal of graduating on time and attending college. One observation he shared was that URM students are a remarkably diverse group, and that this profoundly affects their ability to succeed in their education. For example, some students are fluent in reading and writing multiple languages because they attended school most of their lives. These students also may have advanced knowledge of other subjects such as math and science that translates to what they learn in American schools. Other students, however, may not know how to read or write their first language and may not have had much schooling or exposure to other academic subjects. For these students, the adjustment to school in the U.S. is more challenging. Patience repeatedly stressed the importance of taking time with URM students to build trust and get to know their individual experiences before making assumptions about what they need or the best way to help them in school.
Bringing URM students in to the Passport Scholar community and supporting their success in college will take some intentional effort from Designated Support Staff, Financial Aid Administrators and other student support professionals. If you have questions related to URM students, feel free to contact Molly, Max or Dawa:
Molly Daggett, MSW
Program Manager / Office of Refugee & Immigrant Services / Economic Services Administration / DSHS
Program Director / Lutheran Community Services NW / Refugees Northwest
Independent Living Services Supervisor / Lutheran Community Services NW / Refugees Northwest