Our DPS Weekly: What Our Refugee Students Teach Us

Feb. 3, 2017

“I have been a DPS student ever since we arrived here. I wanted to remain in a place where I can see a small spectrum of the world everywhere I turn.”

— Zahra, 17, South High School

Dear DPS Community,

Earlier this week, Board of Education President Anne Rowe and I visited South High School, an extraordinary school with students from over 70 countries, many of whom are refugee students. We met with several of our refugee students along with their American-born and immigrant classmates, and they all stressed how much they valued the diversity of life experiences and perspectives of South’s student body. 

For the students, a common theme was how South’s refugee students make the school a stronger and richer place, where lessons both on history and current events come alive in the experiences of the student body. And, they celebrated how much they all learn from and support each other.

The talent and potential of our refugee students and their contributions to our schools and community are why we have joined so many other educational institutions in calling for the federal government to lift the recently imposed worldwide ban on refugee resettlement. The U.S. refugee ban, which covers resettlement of refugees from any country worldwide, is hurting our schools, our families and our communities.

One of the thoughtful, inspiring South High students we met with is Zahra Abdulameer, 17.  Here’s a little bit of her story:

“I was born in Babylon, Iraq, and my parents were born in Baghdad. I came to the United States in 2009, after living in Iran and Turkey for a year each, in hope of finding refuge here. After the long-awaited approval, we came to America. The initial reason for our migration was actually forced. My dad was threatened by a terrorist group for working with Americans. Thus, my parents wanted to move to a place where our safety was secure, not to mention due to the educational opportunities my parents hoped America would have. When we came to Denver, we were welcomed with open arms.

“I have been a DPS student ever since we arrived here. I went to Place Bridge Academy for elementary and middle school. The diversity it held allowed me to feel less like a minority and more like I belonged there. That’s the reason I chose to continue my educational journey at South High School. I heard a great deal about its rich diversity. I wanted to remain in a place where I can see a small spectrum of the world everywhere I turn, which is super exciting.” 

Our American-born students we met with were equally emphatic in how much South’s refugee students add to their educational experience. 

“These four years have been the most rewarding of my life. I’ve learned so much not just in the classroom, but from my peers,” said senior Anna Renkert. “I’ve met some of the strongest people I know. I hear some of their stories and I know that I wouldn’t have been able to do what they’ve done, and what their families have done and sacrificed for them.” 

We are very lucky to have Zahra and her classmates in our schools and in our community. We are a community that is made stronger, that is made richer — every single day — by the contributions and experiences of the refugee families and refugee children we welcome in our schools.

We strongly hope that we will be again able to welcome talented refugee students from all over the globe into our schools very soon. 


Read the full edition online of Our DPS Weekly: What Our Refugee Students Teach Us.