High school students from immigrant and refugee families are helping communities navigate the intricacies of technology and the U.S. school system.
Through EMBARC Waterloo’s Youth IT Navigator project, the students produced a new translated video series to help immigrant families learn basic computer and internet navigation skills -- using technology training the students themselves received through the Youth IT Navigator program.
“The primary idea for this program is to train youth about technology because they are already so integrated into the school community,” RISE AmeriCorps Member Chris Weber, who helps organize the program, said. “The youth would then be able to branch out and teach their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and others in their community.”
EMBARC modeled the Youth IT Navigator program after the original IT Navigator program, developed for immigrant and refugee adults. Both programs utilize a “train the trainer” model to teach tech skills to community leaders who then disseminate the information further into their community, Weber explained. Both the adult and youth program offered extensive training in using web browsers, email, Microsoft programs and more.
“The project gave the students the opportunity [to] use the computer skills they learned from the course,” Weber said.
Su Meh, 16, is one student from the Burma refugee community in Waterloo who has been especially committed to the project over the last year. Meh joined the Youth IT Navigator program to give back to the community alongside her brother, Claw Reh, who was the youngest volunteer when he joined last year in eighth grade, Meh said.
Meh balanced classes at Waterloo West High School while researching and writing presentations for videos. Meh worked on the videos about grading systems, Waterloo’s online student and parent portals and more.
Most of the students in the Youth IT Navigator program work in addition to their school responsibilities, but they still have managed to dedicate themselves toward educating their community. EMBARC compensated them for their time and positive impacts with a stipend.
The students’ work on the video series began with considering community needs and researching accordingly. Then after writing video scripts in English, six of the students helped translate the presentations into languages like Spanish, Lingala, French, Karen, and Karenni.
The narrated videos are now available on EMBARC’s Youtube account. EMBARC and the Youth IT Navigator program also produced a separate series of videos with information specific to Waterloo Community Schools.
The videos cover a wide range of subjects, which were chosen based on needs expressed by community members. Families can learn how grading functions in elementary school, middle school, and high school. Videos also show how to check online parent and student portals and the details behind what students are learning in each school subject.
Most families from Burma have insufficient knowledge of the U.S. school system, so the videos in their languages can go a long way to educate them, Meh said. Her bilingual skills also proved useful to create accessible content for other Karenni speakers, who generally suffer from a lack of resources as members of a language minority group.
“Knowing I’m helping out others from the same background as me empowers me a lot,” Meh said.
Story by Julia DiGiacomo
For former AmeriCorps RISE Member Kar Meh, empowering immigrants and refugees with EMBARC Waterloo has become a family endeavor. After successfully completing her AmeriCorps term in 2020, she encouraged her two younger siblings to join the IT Navigator Program as volunteers. Now the family works together to improve the prospects of refugees from Burma in Waterloo.
Kar inspired her 14-year-old brother Klaw Reh and 16-year-old sister Su Meh to follow in her footsteps after volunteering with EMBARC throughout high school as both a youth navigator and RISE member. Kar is also signed up to mentor volunteers for the IT Navigator Program.
“My sister definitely motivated me to join,” Klaw said. “She told me it was a great opportunity.”
Klaw and Su now assist refugees learning to use computers and the internet through the IT Navigator Program. As Youth Technology Navigators, they joined a secondary cohort of student volunteers. After extensive training sessions, they teach basic technology skills needed for modern life in the U.S. to peers and their community.
Su said she and her brother also are currently creating videos on topics such as the U.S. educational and grading systems so that refugee parents can stay involved in their children’s education. Klaw and Su’s bilingual English and Karenni skills have been critical for connecting with and educating clients.
“Most of the Burmese students’ parents have little to no knowledge on these things because of the language barrier,” Su said. “Our goal is to educate them on these topics.”
As just a middle schooler, Klaw is the youngest volunteer with the IT Navigator Program. He said working with his older sister Su has made the experience a lot easier, since she understands him and helps build off of his suggestions for projects.
Kar Meh made her own significant impact on clients at EMBARC Waterloo before her younger siblings’ joined the effort. During her AmeriCorps term as a senior in high school, she primarily worked with youth and interpreted for clients at Waterloo Community Schools before the pandemic hit. Afterwards, she refocused her energy on distributing food supplies for families in need. Kar helped order food, package supplies, reach out to partners, and connect with communities.
Kar’s exemplary work as well as Su’s own past experiences with EMBARC led West High School Student Su to get involved too.
“One of the reasons why I joined this program is because it gives me the opportunity to give back to the community, especially the Burmese community since I’m very interested in it,” Su said. “Knowing I’m helping out others from the same background as me empowers me a lot.”