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MIRROR program powers on at community schools

Tuesday Nov 17th, 2020

The International Institute's MIRROR program, funded by United Way, had to adapt quite quickly amidst COVID as normally the program would have been implemented in person for families in need at community schools Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary and McKinley Elementary. 

The MIRROR program was created to address the complex, diverse, and interconnected needs of refugee youth – as they cope with acculturation stress or childhood trauma, as they transition into the US school system, and as they adapt to resettled life in Erie, PA. The MIRROR program was created to support teachers and school staff who “may feel ill-equipped to address the student’s need(s).” The MIRROR program was created to focus on “the challenges associated with trauma that impede English Language Learners’ ability to achieve academic success.” MIRROR programming is meant to include monthly assessments, supportive case management, streamlined referrals, group parenting and youth workshops, and interpretation support.

The MIRROR program is different than other trauma-informed service providers, because their services are trauma-informed and culturally sensitive and culturally responsive – a rare combination that supports the intersectionality of these students’ experiences.

Lydia Laythe, program coordinator for USCRI and liaison to Meghan Easter, community school director at Pfeiffer-Burleigh shares more below.

"We already had online files for clients, so with some updates and fillable PDF’s we were able to complete everything online which made working during quarantine much more manageable. We still don’t see kids in person, in groups, or with the same frequency as we used to – which I think we all miss the energy of the kids! But we’ve been able to maintain contact by calling and talking on the phone.

We’ve also helped manage some of the more challenging transitions for the school – so while enforcing school rules or managing a classroom isn’t within our program’s immediate scope – given the shift to virtual learning our program and office became very much the bridge between the school and the families. Our staff would interpret expectations to families and help familiar communicate their needs to the school. We helped families get WiFi, hot spots, and other appropriate school supports and tech to make sure they were able to access online learning platforms as quickly as their US-born peers.

Thankfully, our communication with community school directors has been consistent, open/transparent, and active – so there were rarely times when we weren’t on the same page with them when it came to families, students’ needs, etc. Reaching students and families was difficult at times, and this definitely helped us realize some of the gaps in our services. For example, we used to always see people face to face, meet them at school or home or they’d come into the office, so we didn’t notice when phone numbers were no longer active or if a client got a new number if we had just always met with them every Friday after school – for example. So having to rely on phone numbers became a major struggle at first. Luckily, our staff are plugged into the various refugee and immigrant communities in Erie so it was no impossible to ask other community members, family members or interpreters to help us find updated contact information. So that was one area where we adjusted, improved, and will remain mindful of moving forward. And all this was always conveyed to the community school directors, and the open communication was always reciprocated when they received updates from staff or teachers."