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This Denver trainer is aware of what it’s wish to be a refugee


How do academics captivate their college students? Right here, in a function we name How I Train, we ask nice educators how they strategy their jobs.

Katherina Lei was 5 years previous when her household fled the civil struggle in Myanmar, strolling via forests and throughout rivers to neighboring Thailand. 

“I used to be so drained and felt just like the journey would by no means finish,” she stated. 

Right now, Lei is a preschool trainer at Denver’s Place Bridge Academy, a magnet faculty serving refugee and newcomer college students from all around the metropolis. She is aware of what it’s like when college students land in her classroom not figuring out English or dealing with feelings they don’t know how one can deal with.

Her purpose, she stated, is to “peel via the layers and see the energy in them.”

Lei was one in every of three Denver Public Colleges employees members honored final spring by the district’s Asian Training Advisory Council. She talked to Chalkbeat about how she helps new college students acclimate, why studying is so vital to her, and why she mistakenly believed educating could be simple. 

This interview has been flippantly edited for size and readability.

What was your expertise as a refugee like?

I’m a Karen ethnic from Myanmar (previously often called Burma). My mother and father are from the Karen State in Myanmar. I grew to become a refugee due to the civil struggle between the federal government junta that oppressed the Karen and different ethnicities that needed freedom and democracy for many years. 

After I was younger, many villages within the Karen State had been attacked and we needed to flee to a refugee camp in Thailand. I bear in mind vividly how we walked via the forest, slept beneath the bushes in a tent product of tarps, and crossed the river. My sister received chickenpox whereas we had been operating for our lives. 

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I lived in Nu Poe refugee camp in Thailand near the border of Myanmar for over 11 years. We lived in a bamboo home, crowded, and fenced with barbed wire. For me, it was not dangerous as a result of we had a roof over our head and meals on our desk. Moreover, nature was my consolation. 

I by no means felt secure as a result of our camp was on the border. One of many issues that bothered me was the barbed wire fence that took a bit of my garments or my pores and skin each time I snuck out to go discover veggies, swim, or feed my pigs exterior the fence. I snuck out many instances as a result of I used to be all the time inquisitive about what was exterior of the barbed wire fence. Furthermore, I couldn’t see my future and felt caught and uncertain about life.

Within the early 2000s, many international locations, together with america, opened this system to simply accept refugees from Myanmar. My mother and father received accepted to be re-sheltered in america in 2008. I’ve lived within the Aurora-Denver space since I moved right here.

Was there a second whenever you determined to change into a trainer?

After I began school, I needed to change into a pediatric nurse. As I took some school lessons, I began to work at Place Bridge Academy as a paraprofessional to assist me with some payments and tuition. I noticed that I needed to assist younger kids study. After my affiliate’s diploma at Group School of Aurora, I transferred to the College of Northern Colorado to finish my bachelor’s diploma in early childhood training.

How do you assist college students acclimate to dwelling and studying in a brand new place?

I assist college students acclimate by offering a welcoming classroom surroundings, studying just a few greeting phrases or vital phrases from their languages, and listening to them. I additionally join with the households and get to know them by listening to their tales. From my expertise, one of the crucial vital issues is to provide my college students the area and time to undergo their emotions, and simply sit with them quietly if wanted.

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How did your individual expertise at school affect your strategy to educating?

I used to be a refugee pupil coming to this nation with out understanding English or figuring out the system. I bear in mind being scared and misplaced on this new nation. By having a really good and understanding trainer, I used to be capable of navigate via my first yr of college — at Aurora Central Excessive Faculty — on this nation. I can always remember the candy smile of my academics as they helped me perceive what they had been saying. This expertise influenced me to change into a trainer who will not be solely educating lecturers however is an individual college students can belief and who cares about them and understands them.  

Inform us a few favourite lesson to show. The place did the thought come from?

I like studying and speaking in regards to the tales with my college students. Books assist us begin a dialog about an thought or a subject.

After I was younger within the refugee camp, we didn’t have many books. My first reminiscence of having fun with books was after they began to construct a public library. I believe I used to be in center faculty. I’d go and skim as many books as I might each weekend. My first ever favourite guide was referred to as, “Rudy the Bear.” 

I like the sensation of studying, and I wish to move this expertise to my college students. Considered one of my favourite books to learn with my college students is “Whoever You Are” by Mem Fox. I get pleasure from speaking about this guide as a result of I would like my college students to simply accept and have fun the variety of kids in our class, in addition to our group, our nation, and our world. 

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What’s one thing occurring locally that impacts what goes on in your classroom?

My college students all the time inform me what occurs round them — at house, locally, and of their little world. In the event that they witness violence locally, they are going to suppose it’s OK and act out what they’ve witnessed. For instance, they fake to struggle and punch one another. Typically, they fake to be in jail or take one another to jail. In keeping with them, they’re stealing or being dangerous, so that they should be in jail. In the event that they witness kindness, they will even convey it and present it towards their friends.

What was your greatest false impression that you simply initially dropped at educating?

My greatest false impression that I initially dropped at educating was “educating is my ardour and it needs to be simple.” I realized that though educating is my ardour, I’ve many tough days.

What are you studying for enjoyment?

Considered one of my favourite biographies is, “Undaunted: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West” by Zoya Phan. She is a Karen refugee from Myanmar, identical to me. 

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat, protecting early childhood points and early literacy. Contact Ann at



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