Nov. 3-9, 2005
Safe at Last
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Sudanese Refugee Children Thriving at Cathedral School Cathedral School’s principal Charles LaBarbera said the integration of Sudanese refugee children into the school’s student body over the last few years has been beneficial for all. “The children have learned about different cultures and have learned to respect different religions through their interaction with the Sudanese children,” said LaBarbera. “It’s fantastic. Our children are very loving and they accept everyone. Our Sudanese children have fit right in. They feel secure and they look forward to coming to school.
“Their biggest problem has been learning English,” he said. “But, their families have been positive and involved in the school.” The Syracuse City School District has provided some assistance for the Sudanese students.
Flora Ayobo is mother to Sudanese students Estella and Eisa Adam. She agrees that learning English is an obstacle for her children. “But their reading and writing skills are improving,” said Ayobo. “They are doing fine and they are happy with Cathedral School.”
Fourth grader Estella Adam has begun her second year at Cathedral School. She enjoys the friends she has made and also likes her teachers. Estella attended pre-k in Sudan and then attended first and second grades in Egypt before coming to Syracuse. “The classrooms were older and smaller than the ones at Cathedral,” said Estella. The biggest challenge for her since coming to the U.S. was learning to read. Estella’s mother decided to send Estella and her son Eisa to Cathedral School after observing the behavior of children in a public school. “I wasn’t happy with what I saw,” said Ayobo. “They’re doing fine at Cathedral. Their reading and writing skills are improving.”
Eisa is a sixth grader and has started his second year at Cathedral. “I like all of the teachers and students here,” said Eisa. After comparing the education he received in Sudan to the education he is receiving at Cathedral, he said the classes are smaller at Cathedral than at his school in Sudan. “I play soccer and basketball when I’m not in school,” said Eisa. “Reading is getting easier for me, but spelling is really hard for me.” Akol Ater started his first year at Cathedral School in September. Currently in the fourth grade, he enjoyed participating in a recent fundraiser for the school. “My favorite sports are football and basketball and my favorite game is Zelda,” said Akol. “I want to be in the FBI when I grow up.”
Before attending Cathedral School, he attended H.W. Smith Elementary School in Syracuse for a few years. “I met Akol’s father this summer when he registered his two sons at Cathedral School,” said principal LaBarbera. “His father wanted Akol and his son Gai to receive a Catholic education, and he liked the loads of attention that the small classes would afford them.” Sixth grader Gai started his first year at Cathedral in September. He said he liked the school he attended in Sudan better than Cathedral because he had more friends in Sudan. He enjoys playing football with his friends here in Syracuse.
Nyibol Akol is a sixth grader at Cathedral School. “I like everything about Cathedral School, but I especially like the teachers,” remarked Nyibol. She has just entered her third year at Cathedral. After comparing the school she attended in Sudan to Cathedral School, Nyibol said that there were two principals who were very strict and wore uniforms at her school in Sudan. “All of the students were Sudanese,” continued Nyibol. Here in the U.S., she enjoys getting together with her friends to sing.
Cathedral reading teacher Lauren Morgan enjoys working with the Sudanese students. “They’re very excited about learning,” said Morgan. “They are very hard workers — they put a lot of effort into everything they do. The way they watch and observe is helping them to learn.” Carl Oropallo is the coordinator of the Sudanese program at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse and has been instrumental in securing the opportunity for the Sudanese children to attend Cathedral School. Oropallo said the process began when some of the Sudanese parents were concerned about their children receiving a Catholic education. As a result, Oropallo and some of the Sudanese families met with Bishop Thomas Costello to discuss the issue. Oropallo then talked with Father Joseph Champlin about the idea. “Father Champlin was very positive and very willing to accept the Sudanese children into Cathedral School,” said Oropallo. “St. Vincent’s has been very happy with the way Father Champlin has accommodated the Sudanese. Sister Donna Smith, DC, who was principal of Cathedral School at the time, was also very receptive to the idea.”
Sister M. Joana Baidoo, IHMMC, works with the Sudanese students and their families at St. Vincent de Paul’s Parish. In addition to teaching religious education at the parish, she assists LaBarbera at Cathedral School with administrative duties such as helping the Sudanese to fill out registration forms enabling them to receive free lunches. Sister Joana enjoys working with the children. “There is joy in working with these children,” said Sister Joana. “It’s very fulfilling. These children are our future.”