From rubble to Richardson: District welcomes 1,059 refugee students

A high number of refugee students are in Richardson

RICHARDSON -- Life is quiet in North Texas. That's what took 10-year-old Mostafa Ziwani and his big brother, Ahmad, the longest to get used to.

"There are no sounds," Ziwani said. "There is no bombing."

The two brothers moved to Richardson with their family two years ago, fleeing the civil war in Syria. When they arrived, they spoke no English. But after nearly two years at Skyview Elementary, the two are nearly fluent.

The Ziwani brothers are just two of 1,059 refugees attending school in Richardson ISD. In 2002, the district opened the Newcomer Center, dedicated to helping families of immigrant and refugee students.

The center is run by Carmen Casamayor-Ryan, an educator with a personal connection to this cause.

"Well, my father came here as a Cuban national -- a refugee at the time," Casamayor-Ryan said.

Under her direction, the district has specially trained teachers to handle the very unique needs of children fleeing war.

"You think about a loud sound and or a bell, and for these students, that brings such a different experience," Casamayor-Ryan said. "It's important to be calm."

Teachers say refugee students are some of the most grateful they've ever met. Casamayor-Ryan gets emotional recalling a letter one teacher received from a refugee student who had pursued a successful career after attending Richardson schools.

"They said, 'Thank you for being my light in the darkness, thank you for being my voice when I had none,'" Casamayor-Ryan recalled.

She also has a rebuttal for any critics who says refugees don't belong in the United States, let alone North Texas.

"We all a benefit from this," she said. "You can look at it from a deficit or you can choose to look at life where we benefit from each other."

As for the Ziwani brothers, they say they don't have to focus on survival in North Texas. With the help of dedicated teachers and a supportive community, they can thrive.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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