Upon arrival in the U.S., many newcomers do not have cars or cannot afford private transportation. So, like many of their neighbors, they rely on public transit. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that public transit meets the needs of all of Durham residents. However, even when there is good will on all sides this is easier said than done. Current Lab initiatives to improve public transit for newcomer and lower income communities include a productive, ongoing relationship with GoTriangle to shorten the process by which bus stop safety and seating is delivered and the development of a teen transportation and employment survey that will highlight ways public transit can help connect teens looking for work with employers.
Law and Education
Durham Public Schools (DPS) and school districts around the country are grappling with how to actualize educational rights for newcomer and all ELL students promised under both state and federal law—Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Lau v. Nichols (1974). Current Lab initiatives include:
- Developing and scaling (with faculty from the Math Department) ways to teach Numeracy as a Civil Right.
- Utilizing the Lab’s community research method, Tools for Change, to understand how newcomers balance education, minimum wage work, and career preparation and then use data to inform new student informed outreach and programming.
- Collaborating with DPS to: a) Provide Translation and Interpretation Services for ELL families as mandated under Title VI; b) Bring together leaders of the Exceptional Children’s (EC) Services and the English as the Second Language (ESL) Program so they can develop an Interdisciplinary Approach to identify and assess the needs of ELL student who are struggling academically.
Networks and Social Capital
Refugee students rarely have family knowledge and “weak ties” that can help them find their way in a new country. Durham Public Schools is not meeting the needs of newcomer students and their families: Guidance counselors are responsible for hundreds of students; career and technical education is being revised yet again. So, essential questions go unarticulated or unanswered: “How can I find out if Durham Tech or a four-year college is a better fit for me?” “I am not ready for college; is there anyone I can talk to as I try to figure out what now?”
To help newcomer students get answers, the lab has developed an innovative adult network and friendship program. The program is centered on relationships between refugee students and Duke alumni. Emanating from these relationships are a circle of connections that in turn strengthen and reinforce the relationships. Refugee students gain knowledge that helps them get where they want to go next. Duke alumni who need to “lift as they climb” have an occasion to come back to campus and meet engaged undergrad members of the lab who often remind them of their younger selves. Duke undergrads meet alumni professionals working in their field of interest.
The lab is now scaling this successful prototype.