Janine flips through the pages of the sketchbook she kept from art class, her favorite subject during the KRM Summer Youth Program in 2018. The pages bloom with colorful flowers, stars, sheep, wolves, and a family tree with her siblings and parents. Her family — her mother, father, three brothers, and sister — all arrived in Louisville in 2016. They are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Janine, the youngest at age 11, is the only family member born in Uganda, where the family fled to and later lived for almost 10 years.
She recalls a field trip during the Summer Youth Program where they visited “the biggest tree” with a hole that could fit five students. Her interest in nature has made science one of her favorite subjects. “They teach us about earth and about rocks– different types of rocks,” she explains.
Both Janine and her sister Amina, 14, attend Moore Middle School. Her brother Baraka, 18, attends Iroquois High School and is considering becoming a politician because he likes to think, he says. Watching videos of inspirational speeches helps him prepare for his day. Their two oldest brothers and both of their parents work full-time jobs in Louisville, including at a recycling center and at Jewish Hospital. One older brother is also attending Jefferson Community and Technical College.
Coming to the United States has been bittersweet for Janine and her siblings. She and Amina wish they could spend more time outside with neighbors. They miss jumping rope like they used to in Uganda, they explain. They don’t see a lot of other children outside to play with, and they think it’s because other kids are spending all their time indoors.
Still, they are reasons to be happy in their new home, they say. They are warm and dry inside on this rainy day. Their roof in Uganda would leak, and the rain would wet their beds– something they are glad to leave behind. “We don’t sit on the ground anymore,” Janine adds, mentioning their kitchen table and chairs. “We don’t wear clothes that already have germs.” Now, she can wear a shirt one time and wash it. She doesn’t have to wear it all week like she used to, she explains.
When they first arrived in the U.S., the family didn’t all know how to speak much English, they say. Janine speaks Swahili, and the rest of their family members speak Swahili and Kinyarwanda.
“I could understand some things but I could not speak,” Janine’s brother Baraka explains. “I just shut my mouth up and just listen and not talk.” When they need help at school, Baraka says their teachers or tutors have been helpful. This support has led him to both understand and enjoy his English classes now. “I don’t know anybody who hates English class,” he says of his fellow classmates. “In English, you got more opportunity, more freedom to express yourself.”
Their summer plans this year are a mix of school preparation and getting outside. Baraka will continue preparing for the ACT and SAT tests. “I feel like I’m not ready for it,” he says.
Amina is excited to go to the beach on an eighth grade class trip at the end of the school year. Although Janine won’t be able to attend the KRM Summer Youth Program again — spaces will be filled by recently-arrived students who need the support — she and her siblings can move to other out-of-school time programs. She’s looking forward to the break, she says. “My auntie says in the summer she’s going to take us somewhere to swim and have some fun!”
Next school year, Amina will start ninth grade at Central High School. Janine hopes to join her there in a couple years, too. Eventually, both say they would like to study medicine and become doctors so they can help others — and to have more money to help their family, Janine adds. Amina already knows she wants to be a surgeon.
For now, they have been enjoying the quiet and rainy afternoon by napping and reading. Janine loves the tale of Cinderella and another story about a girl who gets bullied by classmates and realizes who her true friends are.
“I have a lot of books,” Amina says. “[Janine] liked the part where Cinderella was crying,” — when the fairy godmother comes and grants her wish, Amina explains. Janine especially likes when the stepmother tried to hide Cinderella from the prince, but he finds her anyway and learns that the magical slipper fits her foot. “Cinderella is a good person,” she says.
a look back at the 2018 summer youth program
“Put your tops on your markers!” an adult voice calls out. Students in KRM’s 2018 summer youth program scurry around the art classroom and tidy up in order to get ready for their recess and lunch. In another classroom, students are reciting a poem in unison as they, too, line up to be dismissed. White cups with students’ names written on them and green stems peeking out are lining the sunny window sill. One little girl is crying to a teacher. “It’s her bean sprout,” explains a volunteer, indicating the white cups on the window ledge. “It didn’t sprout.” The lights turn out. The students line up in the hallway, each with their own lanyard name tag that displays their group name: Stars, Foxes, Penguins, or Tigers.
With school on break for the summer, the KRM summer youth program bustles with 71 recently-arrived students ages 5-14. The program has been a part of KRM’s Louisville office for approximately 20 years, growing each year. The 2018 program offers six weeks of classes, Monday through Friday, at Highland Presbyterian Church’s Nursery and Weekday School, which is across the street from KRM’s building. Students, mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, participate in math, science, ESL, and art classes. Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) provides seven staff members, including ESL teachers and bilingual assistant instructors. Students receive two free daily meals, breakfast and lunch, from JCPS, too. Chicken drumsticks are the favorite this year.
Outside on the playground, students climb over old vehicle tires planted firmly in the dirt. Some children are eating their lunch perched on large logs in the playground while others run around a miniature treehouse. In 2018, the summer youth program was extended from five hours to six hours a day so that the students could have more time in their math and science lessons. The four classes — Stars, Foxes, Penguins, and Tigers — are multi-level, with about 60% of the students speaking some English. At the end of every week, there is a field trip or activity. Kids visit the Blackacre Conservancy, Louisville Zoo, Kentucky Science Center, and The Passionist Earth and Spirit Center. Activities include the KRM World Refugee Day picnic and a student art showcase at the end of the summer. Louisville Free Public Library provides summer backpacks with tickets to places around the city, and the bookmobile visits every other week. All of this activity is supported by JCPS, KRM staff, and 15-17 community volunteers. For students who can benefit from more one-on-one support, additional volunteer tutors step in.
While students attend the program, their older siblings can attend other KRM programs across the street. Often, parents are also attending the nearby Family Center or ESL classes at KRM, if they aren’t working already. For some of these students, this is their first formal educational experience in their lives. For others, it is a way to stay active with their learning so they have a strong start to their school year.