RISE: Refugee and Immigrant Student Education

A Peacemaking Project by Fatima C.

What is the injustice we are solving?

RISE works to connect, engage, and empower the New Haven immigrant and refugee community. We foster inclusion and tolerance through weekly in-school and in-home tutoring visits and monthly community engagement events. Oftentimes immigrants and refugees with limited English knowledge are ignored by the school system due to the lack of resources for non-native English speakers. We work to create equity within the system by having tutors with knowledge of a variety of languages matched to students for these weekly sessions. The school curriculum does not allow for creative learning or practice with spoken learning while taking into consideration emotional needs. Academics set the stage for success later in life, and if inequities are allowed to continue in these early stages, they will be inevitable later in life. We want to work to address these issues on a grass-roots level by creating educational equity from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Our Compassionate Solution:

To solve this injustice of Immigrant and Refugee Education Inequity
we will address ELL Needs in a Holistic Manner in Public Schools
by Weekly in-school and in-home tutoring sessions with matched language skills to provide personalized education for these disadvantaged youth

Our Project Plan:


  • Improve tutor training
  • Create more opportunities for experience based learning for our students
  • Focus on emotional and social needs of students
  • Create community within school to eliminate ethnic barriers
  • Continue spreading impact beyond current schools and families

We will increase my / our compassion by...

We would like to increase our compassion by increasing community awareness of the issues surrounding immigrants and refugees. By creating community support for these youth, we will be able to create opportunities for engagement. Empowerment comes from this type of support, and we hope to continue with our mission with this in mind.

How will you show courage?

We plan to show courage by standing up for our beliefs and working to create an equitable education system. Despite the hardships of the process of change, we have fully committed ourselves to making a difference on an individual and community level.

How will you collaborate with others?

We collaborate with local schools and families to organize tutoring sessions with families. In addition, we work with the local immigrant and refugee organizations for community engagement and fulfilling needs as possible.

How will you know you are moving in the right direction? (What are specific ways you can measure your impact?)

If even one person feels that they have benefitted from SOS's work, then we will continue to work and adapt until our students feel as though they have been given a fair chance to succeed. When our students gain hope for their own futures, we will feel as though we have made a difference.

Key Steps

  • Continue fostering working relationships with families, schools, and local organizations
  • Take student and teacher input into account when designing our curriculum
  • Provide academic resources and supplies geared towards ELL students


How did the project deepen your team's understanding of the injustice?

It is easy to look at statistics concerning immigrants and refugees, but the individual stories have a strong effect on making the cause personal. A particularly emotional time was the recent election, which concerned the students we work with. Hearing children's confused concern about the election was heartbreaking and made their education and inclusion within the community all the more important. Empowering these youth is essential because their experiences will create great leaders and adults within their own interests. Without creating equity within the education system, these children will be left behind. Their passions and interests will be left behind. We cannot let this happen, and as we have worked with these students, we have seen their drive and passion. They have the motivation to succeed, but they do need an equal playing field. The injustice is rooted deep within the system, and we want to address this by empowering these youth.

How did your community change as a result of your project?

We have seen youth feeling as though they can attend college. They feel that they can achieve their childhood dreams. They feel like people care about them as individuals. They bond with their tutors, and they feel welcomed within the community. This has created change in terms of community awareness, engagement, and inclusion.

How many people were impacted by your project?


Explain how you came up with the number of people impacted by the project?

The individuals impacted are the community members we work to serve which are the students at our 6 partner schools and the many families we coordinate our weekly sessions with. We work with students in different public schools in the area, families, and a new ESL class for parents unable to attend others because of young children by having a babysitting group simultaneously.

How did your team learn more about the people affected by the injustice?

New Haven is a sanctuary city, which means that a large portion of incoming immigrants and refugees reside within the city. After the refugee crises of the past years, it became impossible not to address these issues and making a difference in some way. A small committed group came together, and now we are a group of 60+ undergraduate students working to empower the students and families that we work with.

What did your team learn?

We have learned that it is a long and hard process to implement effective change. We have learned about the many layers of support necessary for change to occur. We have learned about the best ways to consult with schools and other community partners. We are all working towards the same goals of empowering all students, and creating opportunities for all to work together has been a very rewarding challenge.

What challenges did your team overcome?

Organization and coordination are the biggest challenges our team has overcome. Coordinating with over-worked and under-resourced public schools and organizations has been difficult without proper working relationships. Establishing those relationships took time and effort, but we have managed to successfully implement our program and are working towards improvement and cohesion.

How have you involved others in designing, carrying out, or expanding this project?

The program is run independently with the students involved. The curriculum is designed by a small group of students, and it is then implemented within small-group or one-on-one sessions. Organization of community events, tutoring sessions, and other logistical features are done by students, as well. This could not be completed without the support and assistance of the New Haven public schools and IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services) primarily. Our organization is a Yale student organization, and the support from the university has been essential in carrying out and expanding this project. There is a range of other smaller organizations and individuals that have supported our endeavor, and we are very grateful to all of these parties.

What advice would you give to someone starting a peacemaking project?

Starting small is the key focus. We have grown exponentially in the past year, but we started with many ten students in a small library classroom, and now we have expanded throughout New Haven and potentially further in the future.

Our Updates:

Successful weekly tutoring

Fatima C.
3 January 2018 5:57
For the past three semesters, we have managed to have successful pairings between tutors and students. At the end of this semester, we have managed to reach over 60 tutors with a variety of language abilities that serve over 200 immigrants and refugees within the greater New Haven area. Weekly sessions have resulted in improvement of English ability and eased transitions. The students, teachers, and families have enjoyed the project thus far. We create community events to bring together these different groups and foster inclusivity. Our last event was a community picnic, and there was a successful turnout of families and tutors. 

SOS Name Change to RISE: Refugee and Immigrant Student Education

Fatima C.
26 February 2018 13:02
RISE (formerly known as SOS: Students of Salaam) is a Yale University-based organization dedicated to empowering immigrant and refugee youth in New Haven through language-based education and community engagement. Yale tutors are matched with students and families based on language to attend weekly sessions in-school or in-home to work with their assigned students. The in-school tutors work with a curriculum designed by RISE, while the in-home tutors are provided resources to assist them and their students in their educational journey. Our organization began with after-school tutoring with a small group of students at a local library and with dedicated work, we have grown to where we are today. 
We currently work in a multitude of public schools and family homes through these weekly sessions with our team of over 50 tutors. As we have expanded, the diversity of our tutors and students has grown. Currently, the main languages we work with are Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Dari, Pashto, and Swahili. For this reason, the Board has decided to move forward with changing the name of the New Haven-based organization from SOS to RISE, with the support of Yale Administration. The word 'Salaam' (Arabic for 'peace') often confuses non-members and those who have not interacted with the group before; it implies that our tutors are all Arabic-speaking or that we only have Muslim tutors/tutees. Given that SOS works with a diverse group of languages and nationalities, having this word in the group name is no longer representative of our tutors or the refugees and immigrants we work with. The acronym SOS is, historically, an international Morse code distress signal. In maritime navigation, it stands for "Save Our Souls" or "Save Our Ship." While we acknowledge this is not what may come to many people's minds immediately, we prefer our name to reflect a more neutral tone. For all purposes, the organization working in New Haven will now be referred to as RISE, and the new logo reflecting this change is below. The email has been updated, and the new address is risenewhaven@gmail.com. The website is currently undergoing updates, and we will be going live with a new site within the coming weeks. We would like to thank you all for your generous support, and we would like to clarify that our mission has not changed. Our weekly activities and our community events will continue as they did prior to the name change. This is simply a rebranding to more accurately reflect what we do and the populations we work with. Thank you for your support, and we are excited to move forward with our work through this rebranding.


Eric D.
4 June 2018 13:16
Hi, I'm Eric the CEO of Peace First. I just finished reading your reflection.
What a terrific and timely project. Thank you for sharing it on the platform and for inspiring others. I appreciate your understanding of how the system of welcoming immigrants/refugees is set up to do harm, beyond any individual’s intention. Working within large institutions has its own struggles and challenges but is so important to creating lasting change.

I think relationships are key to transformation and I admire how you put relationships at the center of your work. Too many tutoring programs are focused on getting to a single goal (test, into college) but it is the process that also matters: connections, laughter, understanding. Terrific.

As you grow and deepen your work, here are a few things to consider: What are ways for program "graduates" to become teachers? What are the holes you are identifying in the services for refugees and how are young people uniquely positioned to help fill them? Given the heightened political rhetoric, how can the refugee community amplify its voice?
Fish S. Peace First Staff
15 January 2018 14:11
I think they'd have good insights to share -- they've been running great programs for a long time and I imagine you'd be able to learn a lot just for an informational meeting.

Let me know if you want me to connect you with an Ed Studies professor. Mira Debs might be a good one to brainstorm with. And of course we're happy to give it a look as well!
Fatima C.
13 January 2018 17:46
Thank you so much, Kelsey! I will definitely take all of your suggestions into account going forward. Welcoming America seems like a great organization, and I'll look into their work to see where we can take inspiration as our organization grows. I look forward to hearing from you!
Fatima C.
13 January 2018 17:43
Thanks so much for all the help Fish! This information is invaluable to us, and we're very grateful for it. I'll look into coordination with Squash Haven and the Future Project; I'm familiar with both but have never thought about formally coordinating with them. We were planning on consulting with a professor in the Ed Studies department and/or the MacMillan Center to discuss if the curriculum has been designed well academically and culturally. As soon as we have a completed copy with the recommendations from the professors, I would love to get another set of eyes on it.
Thank you so much for helping with everything, and we look forward to the next steps of working with Peace First!
Kelsey T.
12 January 2018 12:21
Congratulations! Your project has been selected to receive a Peace First Challenge mini-grant We will be in touch soon with details about this payment.

The mini-grant process is also a space for you to get expert feedback on your peacemaking project. We hope you will use this feedback to further strengthen your project. Please see the feedback on your mini-grant below:

This sounds like a really powerful project making a wonderful impact in New Haven. In particular, I am impressed by how well thought out the program is and how you are taking the learning from the first two semesters and applying it to this semester's work. I love that this project is simultaneously addressing a need for tutoring within the immigrant and refugee community and a need to help create community and build relationships. I think your plan to expand community engagement with events looking at identity is brilliant -- it is so important to recognize all of the many things that make up a person's identity, both as individuals and as an opportunity for folks to build connections and find common ground. It also sounds like you are being really intentional around collaboration --for example, working on ways to incorporate student and teacher input into your curriculum design.
Opportunities to further strengthen your project:
As you continue to grow your community engagement activities, I think it will be important to think both about the immigrant and refugee population you serve, and the best way to involve the broader community and grow its capacity to be a welcoming host community that adapts well to change. I thought reading about the Welcoming America organization might be interesting for you: https://www.welcomingamerica.org/ They do really great work specifically around creating welcoming communities and might have some helpful resources for you.

Congratulations and best of luck with the project!
Fish S. Peace First Staff
12 January 2018 9:40
Hi Fatima, thanks for this update. Sounds like a lot of great planning. Have you connected with The Future Project or Squash Haven? I suggest these because The Future Project has a lot of experience working with students to design events/projects that align with their passions and Squash Haven has experience running sports and academic programs side by side (and have worked with a large population of immigrant families). These could be helpful resources.

Let us know if you want feedback on your curricular revisions or your plans to grow sustainably.

I hear that finances are one of the big challenges at this point. Beyond YCC, Dwight Hall, and the Peace First grant, you should consider applying for funds from Tsai CITY -- I think they would be interested in your model and the depth of your work. I'd also sit down with other groups on campus that have been historically successful with fundraising -- Camp Kesem, Urban Improvement Corps -- and pick their brains. I'll keep brainstorming too.

In terms of going forward with the Challenge, after you receive and spend your mini-grant, you'll submit a reflection explaining how you used the funds and the impact on your work -- and then, you'll have the opportunity to apply to attend one of our accelerators and earn a more substantial accelerator grant.

Throughout, you should see this community as a resource to get answers to some of the questions you just shared -- and we invite you to contribute thoughts to other teams' projects, as you've been doing! :)
Fatima C.
11 January 2018 0:10
We will be continuing our tutoring program because this will only be the third semester of successful tutoring pairings (there were a lot of logistical issues with the first two semesters). We are trying to expand our vision for community engagement by creating events that focus on other aspects of identity such as fashion, sports, etc. to interact with the students. We are currently in the process of setting the bases for these events while solidifying the tutoring process further. Last semester was very successful, but our organization is continuing to grow, and we are working to allocate our resources more efficiently. Our curriculum is almost completed, and we will finalize schedules for weekly tutoring within a few weeks. Challenges mostly come in the form of limited resources, because ESL materials and the logistics of community engagement events can be more than what we can currently manage. We are changing our system to better accommodate more students and tutors, which increasing inclusivity of cultures that are not as heavily represented. We hope that the mini-grants will be helpful in going forward with these, and if you know of other funding resources, I would love to discuss that further. What are the next steps going forward as we continue the Challenge?
Fish S. Peace First Staff
10 January 2018 17:15
Hi Fatima, thanks for posting this project -- really excited to see it here. I've loved the chance to read more about your work & theory of change. I really like the deep and intentional relationships you've built in the immigrant community in New Haven and how responsive the program is to their needs.

Here's my question -- what are your plans for the spring? Are there particular things you are hoping to try -- or any challenges you're facing? Would love to know how we can be helpful. I know funding is important -- hopefully the $250 mini-grant will be helpful; there will also be an opportunity at the end of the Challenge to apply for larger accelerator grants.
RaulPF C.
4 January 2018 11:48
Great to hear! Our main ways to support you are:
- Digital mentoring but it sounds like you have great support
- The mini-grants
- Our tools which you can find at https://www.peacefirst.org/resources
- Connecting you with others in the community
- We will also have a youth summit this year where we will bring some of the projects that have been part of the campaign so stay tuned for that too!
Fatima C.
3 January 2018 9:36
Thank you for the quick response! We have been a functional organization for about a year and a half now, and as our organization has grown tremendously, we were referred to Peace First as an option for support in terms of funding. I saw the option of obtaining a mentor, but are there other forms of support? We have faculty members and adults within local organizations that we normally draw on for mentorship support, and I wouldn't want to take someone's time unnecessarily. Thank you!
RaulPF C.
3 January 2018 9:17
Thanks for sharing your project, Fatima. We have also received your mini-grant request. A team member will be in touch soon with more details. In addition to the mini-grant, are there any other areas where you need support?
Adrian B.
28 June 2018 17:12
Hi Fatima! I hope you're doing well. You may have noticed that we launched a new version of the project process on our platform, and now your project has a new page. I saw your awesome reply to Eric, and I'm going to post it here, so it's all in one place. I hope that's OK by you! Let me know if you have any questions. Best, Adrian

Hi Eric,

Thank you so much for your feedback on RISE! We truly appreciate all that Peace First has done for us. We are trying to create a space for our students to become involved with the group as they get older, especially in events. Recently at our Multicultural Festival, the students were part of a fashion show, working booths, and sharing their cultures. As the program grows, we would love to have our students give back in other ways. Since we're a Yale organization, we primarily have Yale tutors, but we are definitely working on the integration process to continue expanding. Politics are naturally a part of the conversation, and there are other groups in New Haven focusing more on policy. To best work with other groups, our focus has been education and advocacy above all else, but we agree and support the voices within our community. Please don't hesitate to let me know if you have other advice, especially on how to measure impact. Thank you!
Amy T. Peace First Staff
1 August 2018 14:46
Hi Fatima!

Amy here--I'm a member of the Peace First team, and I wanted to let you know that I really like how your project serves immigrant and refugee children by creating strong relationships between the kids and tutors/mentors in order to alleviate the obstacles that society inevitably creates for them. I'm happy to hear your plans to expand this further as well as continually improving this program. I hope that you'll submit an application to tell your story at the first-ever Peace First Summit on 9/16!

Applications are due today, August 1--you should have more information in your email inbox. Here's the application link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd6X9fTrSTC6PoXjLpVUtNlJgZHbd5QdB6-hgxlC-d7DBlK_g/viewform Please let me know if you have any questions--I hope you'll apply!