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Supporting Refugees Through School Impact Grants: Connecting a Global Issue to K-12 Missouri Schools

Introduction by: Lisa Pamela Lopez-Escobar and Sophia Rodriguez University of Maryland, College Park

Guest Bloggers: Emily R. Crawford, PhD, University of Missouri; Juan José Reyes, University of Missouri, & Shawn Cockrum, Missouri Office of Refugee Administration

January 10, 2024

Happy New Year All! We are excited to enter the new year with renewed energy and our continued commitment to immigrant educational equity. In 2023, we published 13 blogs from a range of scholars at institutions across the country. We express our gratitude to those who have contributed and to all of you for following along.

We are excited to kickoff 2024 with a blog this week’s blog from Dr. Emily Crawford from the University of Missouri and colleagues. Dr. Emily Crawford, doctoral student Juan José Reyes and Shawn Cockrum of the Missouri Office of Refugee Administration (MO-ORA) share findings from their MO-ORA/University of Missouri Partnership. They analyzed grant proposals for refugees specifically, the Afghan Refugee School Impact and Support to Schools Grants, and how school districts are proposing the use of funds to support refugee students and families. The authors also give suggestions as to how the funds could be used to create more welcoming spaces for refugee integration into schools and society. 

We welcome additional comments and reflections, please email us at: or through the Immigrant Ed Next website. Follow us on twitter @ImmigrantEdNext


Guest Bloggers: Emily R. Crawford, Juan José Reyes and Shawn Cockrum


As of 2022, 108 million people have been displaced due to war, fragile political states, and violence. Some individuals and families have been forced to move elsewhere within their own country (65.2 million); others have sought refuge in new countries. The world has an estimated 35.3 million refugees, and 5.4 million more people seeking asylum. Specifically, a refugee is someone who leaves their country and crosses an international boundary due to “a well-founded fear of persecution” based on their identity (e.g., race/ethnicity, sexual orientation), religious or political beliefs, or to flee war and violence. Asylum-seekers are in the process of seeking safe haven. 

The United States annually resettles approximately 73,000 refugees. In 2023, the top three groups of refugee arrivals originated from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burma, and Syria. However, Afghans, Ukrainians, and displaced persons from various regions comprise growing shares of displaced persons seeking refuge. Missouri - the location of this project, is also an immigrant destination state. In 2018, nearly 258,400 people, or 4% of individuals in the state were foreign-born. Missouri is no longer “flyover” country for many. 

Missouri welcomed 1,563 refugees and other immigrants via the US Refugee Admissions Program in 2023. The Missouri Office of Refugee Administration (MO-ORA) reports the top five countries of origin for new arrivals are DRC, Afghanistan, Syria, Burma, and Sudan. Nineteen percent of arrivals between October 2022 and September 2023 were between five and 17 years old, and therefore of schooling age. MO-ORA and researchers at the University of Missouri partnered to better understand how Missouri K-12 school districts strive to support refugee students and families.

Afghan Refugee School Impact and Support to Schools Grants

According to multiple court rulings and policy measures such as Castañeda v. Pickard (1978), Lau v. Nichols (1974), Plyler v. Doe (1982) and the Refugee Act of 1980, refugee children should enroll in K-12 schooling within 30 days of arrival and have a right to a meaningful and equal education to that of their non-refugee background peers. K-12 schools (and higher education institutions) are essential to creating welcoming environments for refugees. Refugees bring a wealth of cultural, religious and linguistic heritages to K-12 schools but may need additional academic support, help acquiring English, and working through trauma. However, receiving refugees may be new for some school districts; others may not have the capacity, infrastructure, qualified personnel, or training to best meet refugee students’ and families’ needs.

There are currently four different grants that originate with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement designed to help school districts across the country. State-level agencies like MO-ORA receive and disburse federal funding to support refugee resettlement agencies. They may also support K-12 school districts to get schools the financial resources they need to better serve refugee students and families, untangling the “layers of complex forces” that inhibit them from providing high quality education and services to refugee families. Three grants are designed to assist specific populations (i.e., Afghans and Ukrainians) and are being used by more than 30 school districts across the state to provide supplemental services such as academic support, English language development, parent engagement and professional development (PD) for district staff. The Afghan Refugee School Impact (ARSI) and the Support to Schools (StS) grants are both intended to be used specifically for recently arrived students and families. Two other grants are the Ukrainian Refugee School Impact and the traditional Refugee School Impact Grants. These grants can be used for all students who meet the definition of “refugee.” Grant cycles run on the same schedule as the school year, and districts have up to three years to use the funding per grant cycle. Missouri has allocated more than $3 million to schools across the state. 

Findings from the MO-ORA/University of Missouri Partnership

Successful integration of refugee students into school systems requires the collaboration of key stakeholders and actors. MO-ORA and researchers at the University of Missouri partnered through spring and summer 2023 to analyze 35 school district grant applications (23 ARSI; 12 StS) across demographics, school district size, and rural, urban or suburban designation to understand what districts identified as their greatest needs in serving refugees based on how they planned to allocate their funds.

The findings showed that MO K-12 districts that applied for funding to support Afghan arrivals (and some Ukrainian) predominantly identified a need to 1) increase family engagement efforts, and 2) strengthen English Learner education

1.     Family engagement: The most common needs districts identified were funding to support efforts to translate and interpret; they also aimed to host family events like orientations or registration nights. Next, districts also required materials/supplies and funding for adult education (e.g., family English classes), and new staff (e.g., family liaisons). Less common was districts wanting to fund home visits, transportation, or partnerships with community agencies. Notably, Missouri’s four largest metropolitan areas, St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia, applied a significant amount of funding to enhance and expand successful practices already in use, including hiring and providing professional development or pathways to certification for staff to teach English Learners (ELs). For smaller suburban school districts with long-standing refugee communities (e.g., Mehlville)--and some with proportionally fewer newcomers over the years (e.g., Clayton)--grant funding allowed them to build upon already successful practices, and  spend time and resources on new activities like home visits or creating Afghan newcomer welcome kits.

2.     English Learner (EL) education: the most common needs were professional development for teachers. The next biggest “asks” included materials or supplies like iPads, and funding to hire new staff like teachers, instructional aides, or tutors. Less commonly, applicants sought funds for after-school programming, small group instruction, newcomer welcome kits, or translation/interpretation. Twenty percent of applications focused on students’ English proficiency by procuring materials/supplies, newcomer curriculum, and new staff.

Implications and Recommendations for Missouri School Districts and Beyond

Because refugee students go through unique journeys from the moment of displacement to resettlement, it is paramount to reconsider best practices that address the instructional needs of students, but also their social and emotional needs, as well as celebrating them as assets of diversity. Project findings align with best practices noted in recent research on refugee education, particularly in regard to family engagement and EL education. 

Research shows that refugee families have high aspirations for their children’s education . Many school districts in Missouri focused on the EL education aspect within their applications, especially PD for teachers, obtaining materials and supplies, and hiring new staff. 

Yet, there remained a need for district attention to using trauma-informed practices and forming connections between students’ native language proficiency and learning a new language. Many grant applications also focused on family engagement efforts. It is critical for school districts to view refugee families as assets and partners, making them part of any family engagement initiatives in the school settings. Districts can create a welcoming agenda for refugee integration, including input from educators and staff, families, universities, and agencies like MO-ORA have the potential to change refugee integration in schools and society.

Acknowledgment: We would like to recognize here the critical contributions of Dr. Lisa Dorner to the MU-MO-ORA partnership, whose scholarship, ideas, and commitment to quality education for refugee students and families is a model to follow. 


Suggested Citation*: Crawford E.R., Reyes, J. J. & Cockrum, S. (2024, January 10). Supporting Refugees Through School Impact Grants: Connecting a Global Issue to K-12 Missouri Schools. Immigrant Ed Next.

*Introduction by Lisa Lopez-Escobar and Sophia Rodriguez

Copyright © 2022: Sophia Rodriguez, Immigrant Ed Next,-All Rights Reserved

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