Two Wichita students whose families fled violence and civil war in their home countries are featured in a new documentary about refugees and their effect on schools.
“Refuge in the Heartland,” a film produced by the Kansas State University College of Education, will premiere at a free screening 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Wichita district headquarters, 903 S. Edgemoor.
The documentary examines the complex issue of refugee resettlement and what it has meant for Wichita schools, which have seen an influx of students from all over the world.
K-State chose to focus on Wichita schools because of initiatives like the Newcomers program for recent immigrants and refugees, district officials said.
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The film features two students, Alain and Dorcas, who are among the more than 130 refugees enrolled in Wichita schools. Their last names were purposefully omitted in the documentary.
Alain’s family lived in a tent city in a refugee camp for 17 years. Dorcas and her family moved at least six times to flee violence, eventually resettling in Wichita after one daughter was killed during the civil war in Congo.
“We are so grateful to the teachers, administrators, parents and students in Wichita Public Schools for granting us access to their schools and classrooms,” said Debbie Mercer, dean of the K-State College of Education, in a news release about the film.
“We hope people walk away with a renewed sense of community pride and appreciation for their teachers and schools after watching this documentary.”
The Wichita public school district has more than 50,000 students, who speak more than 100 languages.
Trina Harlow, an art education instructor at K-State who taught refugee and displaced students in Uganda and Ecuador, envisioned the documentary as an instructional tool for educators, volunteers and others who work with refugee families.
Rusty Earl, the college’s video producer, filmed the documentary and was supported by two student editors.
“Children with refugee status are here legally, and they are our collective responsibility,” Harlow said. “Many schools have outstanding ESL programs but, in my opinion, refugee students need more — they need ways to release emotion and deal with trauma, they need to learn about our culture, some even need to learn how to go about their day in formalized schooling.
“They need caring educators and peers who understand what it means to be a refugee. Teachers across Kansas and America can watch this and learn better ways to connect with their students, and ultimately that makes us all better educators.”