Jimmy Baraka, 13, lives more than 7,000 miles away from his native Bukavu, a city that sits on the south of Lake Kivu in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A civil war from the 1990’s to 2003 claimed the lives of 5.5 million people in the country and post-conflict bouts have contributed to present-day violence.
Jimmy and his family moved to Louisville almost a year ago. When he becomes an adult, Jimmy says he wants to visit Bukavu. Until then, he says there are many things about living in the U.S. that he enjoys, like being able to attend school for free.
Jimmy says his favorite subjects are science and social studies.
“I want to learn everything about the earth,” he says.
Jimmy is one of 100 or so kids taking part in the Newcomer Academy’s after school program. The Newcomer Academy is a school specifically for immigrant and refugee youth — middle and high schoolers — who are new to the United States. During the day, the students attend ESL classes, a program run by Jefferson County Public Schools. In the after school program, run by the YMCA, students work in groups to finish homework and play sports.
According to the think tank New America Economy, almost 4 percent of Louisville’s population is foreign-born — that’s up from less than 1 percent in 1990. And while 4 percent doesn’t seem like a huge number, many of these immigrants come from countries where English is not their native language. This can pose challenges to school-aged immigrants who need a fast track to learning English to succeed.
Katrina Moore, director of the after school program at Newcomer Academy, says that’s why the program’s work to integrate students into their new country is so essential.
“There’s only so much that can happen in a typical school day,” says Moore. And she says the curriculum goes far beyond reading and math.
“We work a lot on social and emotional learning in our after school program; teamwork, inclusion,” she says. “During the school day, where you might have some kids eating lunch with other kids from their same country and background, after school is always a blended experience.”
Moore says the academy relies on public donations to keep the program going.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, about 30 students sit at long lunch tables, waiting to play soccer. I spoke to a few of them about what they wanted to achieve while at Newcomer and what they hope to do with their lives when they grow up.
Prisca Sebele, 12, moved from Uganda about a year ago. Her favorite subject in school is science and she says she hopes to one day be a dancer. “I wanna come here to learn more English to go to the next American school,” she says.
Adryan Reyes, 13, is from Cuba. Adryan plays the guitar and wants to be a musician. He says of his new home in the U.S., “Here, there is so much opportunity to choose your career.”
Elkin Perez, 14, says he now feels he has more opportunity for his dream career. “I want to be a pilot because my uncle was a pilot from Cuba, and I like it.”
More information about the Newcomer Academy and the after school program can be found here.