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COVID relief funds to bolster summer program for new American students

The South Sudanese Foundation of Fargo/Moorhead was one of 11 organizations that received financial help to target learning recovery.

Students at the South Sudanese Foundation of Fargo_Moorhead during a recent class.png
Students at the South Sudanese Foundation of Fargo/Moorhead participate in a class.
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FARGO — A Fargo-Moorhead nonprofit that provides tutoring for children of new Americans is among 11 organizations that received funding for summer learning programs from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

The Department of Public Instruction split its $200,000 share of federal education grants targeting COVID-19 student learning recovery into grants of $5,000 to $20,000 to help with summer instruction on computer coding, robotics, engineering, music, theater, English and even outdoor activities like rock climbing.

One of the organizations that received a $20,000 grant was the South Sudanese Foundation of Fargo/Moorhead, a nonprofit that tutors children of new Americans, according to a press release from the Department of Public Instruction.

"Many of our North Dakota schools already offer summer academic programs that help students avoid the 'summer slide' in their learning, or allow them to get extra instruction in certain subjects. These grants will help expand these programs and make them more widely available," said Kirsten Baesler, superintendent of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, in a press release.

The South Sudanese Foundation of Fargo/Moorhead was established under the ESHARA Group, a conglomerate of seven nonprofit new American organizations trying to help their communities navigate school, work and life in North Dakota.

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Matuor Alier, a community leader and the director of equity and inclusion for Moorhead Area Public Schools, is also involved with the foundation, which began in a church basement.

Now, classes are held in an office on 28th Street South, but the foundation, which mostly assists kindergarten through middle school students, will soon have a new home.

"We started to breach that educational gap for new American students who get no help from home and help them catch up with their peers," Alier said. "When the pandemic happened, the gap got wider," because those students have little to no help with schoolwork at home.

Many immigrant parents cannot read or write English because they grew up in refugee camps, Alier said.

When children were sent to distance learning, new American students fell further behind because their parents had no way to assist their learning, he said, adding that the foundation has one-on-one tutoring for high school students.

"I was able to help my children, but my neighbors who don't know English or can't read weren't able to help theirs," Alier said. "Most of the time, children are the interpreters for their parents."

With an average of 40 students per day, the foundation is offering classes from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The grant money will go toward hiring tutors and to help pay for lunches, Alier said.

Some other organizations that received funds from the Department of Public Instruction include: Turtle Mountain Community School in Belcourt, North Dakota Gateway to Science in Bismarck, International Music Camp in Dunseith, Haley's Hope Dyslexia Learning Center in West Fargo and Bison Cyber Camp in Fargo.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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