Spokane Community College Receives $430,000 For Massive Increase in Refugee Students
[Spokane, WA] Russia’s war in Ukraine came as a shock to Roman Alieksieienko. He and his wife – who lived in Kupiansk in Northeast Ukraine – were touring the city of Lviv when they heard sirens screaming through the city.
“The hum of the civil defense system filled all the space in the center of Lviv,” he said.
Alieksieienko, 43, is one of the Ukrainian refugees seeking shelter in the Spokane area. He currently attends Spokane Community College to learn English as a Second Language. The college has recently experienced a major influx of refugee students, mostly due to those fleeing Ukraine.
In Fall 2021, SCC had 389 students enrolled in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program; that number jumped to 876 this Fall quarter. Officials estimate that 60 percent of the current students in the ESL program are from Ukraine, 15 percent from Afghanistan and 16 percent are from Central and South America.
To accommodate the increase and assist refugees, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges granted SCC’s Adult Basic Education program with $430,000 for the expansion of existing programming to accommodate refugees and immigrants who have arrived in Washington State on or after July 1, 2021 and are eligible for federal refugee resettlement services. According to Dean of Adult Basic Education Sherri Fujita, the funds will help cover additional instructional costs and support services to enroll and place those students. Due to the influx, the college is also seeking more ESL instructors (the job listing is here).
Advanced ESL Instructor for Refugees and Immigrants Molly Popchock said the students not only learn valuable skills at SCC, but the classes help counter some of their trauma.
“Coming to school is stabilizing and strengthening,” she said. “I admire them and their strength.”
Popchock said that students would break down in class and that the Ukrainian refugees’ deep love of their homeland was unique.
“It’s the first time I’ve had a group who didn’t know if they’re going to stay in the US,” said Popchock, who has been a teacher for 30 years.
“We very much hope this war will end, and we can return to our former life,” Alieksieienko said.
Ukrainian refugee Mariia Baranova – who is from Poltava in Central Ukraine – also wants to return to Ukraine but believes that the country will not be the same. Before leaving, the war was impacting the education of her two children.
“I was nervous for my kids,” she said. “Many people left Ukraine. Many teachers and kids went to other countries. The schools no longer worked.”
Before the war, Baranova, 40, played viola in a Ukrainian symphony. She studied music for four years in college and another six years at a university. Education is important to her, and she credits SCC with helping her integrate into the US.
“SCC is a nice place, and I enjoy it,” she said. “It has many resources.”
Likewise, Alieksieienko is grateful for the ESL program, which his wife is also taking. Alieksieienko, who was a civil engineer, hopes that improving his English will open up opportunities for a good job in the US.
“I’m excited about the education process,” he said. “My teacher is really good. She says she can help me at any time.”
While education is important, according to Popchock, SCC also provides resources to help with refugees’ trauma.
“We have a strong counseling department, and they’re doing such a good job,” she said. “I feel that SCC is doing a good job in serving them. And they enrich us as well; they help make us better.”
For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Rachel Román at Rachel.firstname.lastname@example.org or Jeff Bunch at email@example.com.
CCS provides education and services in a six-county region of Eastern Washington, operates Spokane Falls Community College and Spokane Community College and is the largest provider of Head Start and Early Childhood Education in the region. Each year, nearly 30,000 people – from infants to senior citizens – are provided educational services by CCS.