Why this works….

As everyone settled into summer, there was no question that we still had work to do. The six future college students settled into twelve days of intense training to practice those skills necessary for college.

First, we discussed the difference between high school and college. Exploring how different the orientation of college really was. There would be no teacher badgering to have them move forward or to remind them of upcoming assignments.  Time management would become a major focus. Get it wrong and your grades will suffer. These topics face every student. Now we moved into something deeper.

We needed to discuss issues that are unique to refugees.  More than discussing, we needed to practice the necessary skills that enable a refugee to successfully engage in a classroom setting.  Two issues rose to the forefront.

How would you handle the situation where you are not being understood by your professor or your peers?  I want you to understand how challenging this situation is for students. Not being understood is embarrassing, frustrating and humbling. It can result in isolation and withdrawal. We choose to practice this situation. We acted out the scenario in one on one dialogue. We talked about the reactions of those who could not understand us. Some might laugh, some might pretend to understand and others might simply ignore. This was pretty challenging material. Our students jumped right in navigating the murky waters of direct communication.

Even more difficult was the situation of not understanding others in the class. How do deal with a situation that you might confront for the majority of the time you spent in class? Frustration arose when we discussed the importance of understanding what others were saying. Group projects are incredibly important. So is the level of participation that is key to active learning. How do you handle this situation again and again?

There is no one correct way to handle such complex situations. Instead, each student came away with several options comfortable to them.

Why this approach works… 

This twelve-day session was a success because the Bootcamp was

  • based on small group work
  • contained students who were moving into a new situation
  • established trust and a willingness to see each other succeed
  • confronted real difficulties directly
  • based on role playing and active engagement skills
  • allowed each person to share both strengths and weaknesses
  • we had plenty of food for lunch!


Please reach out and help support this important work. Please consider donating to the Writing Partnership. We are 501 (c) (3). All donations go directly to support the educational opportunities for refugees.  Please donate at www.writingpartnership.org.

Towards a New Beginning.​..

In June we celebrated another group of refugee students graduating from Bishop Maginn High School.  This summer we prepared for the fall. That means we prepared for the first semester of College.  Moving forward, I wanted the future college students to understand the vast difference between college and high school. It is a difficult transition for most high school students but refugee students face additional hurdles.

We set about to brainstorm a process that would allow entering college students to practice the kinds of skills included in college work. I sat down with our last year’s cohort and set an agenda of items that current refugee college students could practice for this fall.

For twelve days we sat together in our make shift classroom and talked about college, the transition to adulthood and how one can grow to support the community.  Each day, we put our six participants through practice session that would be similar to the kind of experiences that one would encounter in college. The morning would begin by working on technology skills. Then lunch, then reading, discussion and presentation.

At the end of each day, everyone (including yours truly!) was tired and ready to go home only to do additional work.  Despite the rigorous schedule, each student fully participated.

Toward the end of the twelve days, there were given an iPad to assist them on their journey.  More importantly, they were taught ways to have technology assist in their education

We learned many things together but most important is that our participants learned that they are not alone, they are part of a community.   I have attached some pictures below.  Enjoy!

In order to make this happen, we need your support! Please go to http://www.writingpartnership.org and consider donating.  There is so much more to be done!

Dr. Harden



What happen when I brought a Refugee to the National Holocaust Museum….

This post Christmas week, I had an wonderful opportunity to have one refugee student accompany my family on our trip to Washington D.C..  I was thrilled.  This was a young man of limited English literacy skills but full of the desire to know and to learn about the world around him.  

I find it ironic that so many think that the key to success is learning English, when really the key to greater understanding is an education in the liberal arts.  The liberal arts provides a context for a world outside of the refugee camp. 

Our first day is Washington, we landed tickets to the visit the US Holocaust museum.  It is an amazing place.  However bringing a refugee to the museum added a level of depth that I had not ancticipated.  

As we went from exhibit to exhibit documenting the atrocious of the Holocaust, my student would point at pictures and say to me, “I know that” or “I lived that”.  Sometimes he would encourage me saying “If you go to Burma, you see that”.  

I could not read his reaction.  It was a sense of the familarity of pain and death.  Suffering recognizing suffering.  

What can I tell this young man, when a chant is “Never Again”?  

What solace could I find?  It appears that the solace was for me, not him.  When I strolled through the Hall of Rememberance, I found my self confronted with my answer:

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

Perhaps it was a moment of recognition.  What we do does matter.  Please support our Refugees.  They matter!

To Think Different…

Many, many years ago, Apple computing, launched a commercial that taught a powerful message.  The commercial was filled with images of men and women who were thought to be the “crazy ones” during their lifetimes.  Each took they own path and each changed the world.  These men and woman believed that they could change the world and they did.  In art, science, social justice and humanities these “crazy ones” brought a new reality into light.  

I have experienced this light.  The young women and men who have been my companions on a path that led us to think differently about education and the gift that it brings.  Either Refugee Student or Siena Student, each created a vision which came to known as the Writing Partnership. A vision based on the fundamental belief that each has a story to tell and that each a story worth telling.

Yet there are those who consistently attempt to control the creativity of our young ones. They form rules and controls that diminish, rather than enhance, the dreams of the young visionaries. 

Last night, we celebrated our sixth Christmas party.  As I looked around the room, of Refugee Students and Siena Students, what I saw was one group united to make our world a safer and more just place.  What was so different was that this group of young visionaries were living that reality.  They are the “crazy ones” who have changed my world and the world of so many others.  
Thank you, my dear “crazy ones”, may you ever continue to change the world.  You have changed my world. Below is the link to the original commercial.  Take a minute and watch.

How to give Thanks…

While I often begin my blog by bragging about the success of our students, I wanted to do something different this post.

Yes, there are many, many things to be thankful for in the last few weeks. Among them are
1. A dedicated group of refugee students who are struggling to make a better life for them and their children
2. A dedicated group of Siena students and alumni who are struggling to contribute to making the educational experience of our refugee students success.
3. A growing community of people who are aware of the needs, conditions and concerns of those marginalized by war, genocide and ignorance

Most of all, though, I must be thankful for expression of love and solidarity showed by the People of God at Mater Christi Church. The members of this community opened their hearts to help our refugee students. They embraced them, hugged them, prayed with them. It was unbelievable.

This moment was a true expression of how our world should be. A place of love, respect and generosity. My heart was overwhelmed. This is how to give thanks.


The End Times

Last weekend, I was invited to speak at a local church who has been a major supporter of our efforts with the Refugee Community.

The Gospel reading describes how Jesus responds to the riches and adornments of the temple. He tells his followers how there will come a time when “Nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues..” Jesus then goes on to describe how people will be seized, imprisoned and put to death.

As I sat there, I couldn’t help thinking how Jesus’ words, might sound if I were a Refugee. Refugees are tortured, assaulted, trafficked. Their villages burned, running from pain with no health care or protection.

I believe Refugees have lived through the “End Times.” Yet, I find no bitterness. Instead, I find gratitude. No hatred lives there. Instead, I find courage.

I am in awe of their spirit.

This Cohort Rocks!

img_0253What can I tell you! Each Saturday Evening, I am amazed. First, we welcome two more students into our cohort. They are eager and ready to begin. Our student succeeded in completing the following this week:

  • One student finished and passed reading exam
  • One student logged in and talked to his Siena College mentor
  • One student prepared for his reading skills exam
  • One student passed her English examination and earned a 90%
  • One student passed three exams this week
  • One student completed her Quizlet homework
  • One student received an 82% on her Human Relations Exam
  • One student worked with his mentor

During the session, we worked on reading comprehension, and you could see the improvement. Each week students are required to read two newspaper articles and to give a brief summary of the article. From there they derive a list of vocabulary words.

The student enjoyed learning and using Quizlet, which I recommend for all students to use.

Carry on. Honored Students — I am incredibly wowed by your performance! Well done!

“Do I Still Dare to Dream?”

I woke up this morning with several messages waiting for me. The one that most affected me was from a Refugee student who asked me, “Do I still dare to Dream?”  In that single sentence, my heart broke. It lay like pieces on the floor amid the hopes of so many refugees.  

I choked.  What could I say?  Then another message came in, “Why so many people like him?”.  “I don’t know”, I had to say. “Why is that people like people who hate others?” I don’t know the answer to that either.

Then another message from a Refugee student, a graduate of our program, now at a local college.  “Help me go to law school”, she said, “I know it will be hard but I want to make a difference.”

I did not feel like teaching this morning, but knowing that students would be anxious and apprehensive, I had to teach. I had to listen to the concerns and fears from students that have made my life more meaningful.  In their pain, suffering, strength and fortitude, I see a better America.  I see an America in which we all can still dream and no one can stop that.

Dr. Harden

They Keep Knocking it Out!

Each week I am constantly amazed by our students.  Today’s ‘shout out’ goes to our Writing Partnership High School Completion Students.  They continue to make incredible gains despite having to work and for many raise a family.  Here are last Saturday’s successes:

  • One student passed math three exam with an 85!
  • One student passed first exam in Introduction to Literature and Short Story!
  • One student passed Reading Skills exam with an 85%!
  • One student passed Consumer Math exam with an 80%!
  • One student passed Part 1, 2, 3  in her Human Relations course
  • One student passed Part 1 of Human Relations course
  • One new student studied for his first examination.

We were joined this week by a Siena student, Saba, who will serve as mentor for a new student.  Serving as a mentor is a great way for Siena and Maria College students to be involved in the life of Refugees and to make this program such a transformative experience.

Three Maria College students also joined this week.  They were here to give us a hand with our unit on reading with comprehension.  Mu Blae, Chayenne and Dom were amazing. They would like to start their a sister program at Maria College.  We look forward to helping this get off the ground.  Welcome, Welcome!

You Guessed it!

​Our curriculum last Thursday night was about….well you guessed it…the election!  After a brief over of the electoral process in the United States our students worked together on what it would be like to be the President of the United States.  Our questions included, “What would you do if you were President?”.  The question may seem pretty basic but not for our refugee students.  To imagine that you are the most powerful person on the planet, is a leap when you have spend most of your life in a camp of 30,000 people who have no rights, no liberties and no vote. 

When you are a refugee, you have no control over your life.  So you might expect that when presented with the possibility that you might become the most powerful person on the planet, you might find answers like a new car or a big house or simply enough food.   Instead our students talked of peace, an end to violence and food for everyone. 

That is the kind of students that we work with at the Writing Partnership.  Students who have come through trauma and tragedy of the worst kind, yet see the goodness that the future can hold.  

I am hoping that everyone who reads this will be moved.  It is my personal mission and the mission of Writing Partnership to provide that bright future for our students. It is a win-win situation.  Our refugee students move into a amazing world of possibilities and our Siena College and Maria College students develop the leadership ability to assist in that transformation.  

Please take a look at our website, http://www.writingpartnership.org.

God Bless,

Dr. Harden