LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Give me your tired, your
Unexpectedly, in the deep of
night, a bone-chilling story begins to play through the mind of Ratib Nasic.
A young family is brutally taken captive by soldiers. As they are led away,
their neat, two-story brick home on a flower-covered bank explodes into flames.
As a miniature United Nations in Arizona, the RTAP may include students from 30 countries, speaking over 26 languages at one time. There are no educational requirements to enroll in MSC, but students must be at least 16 years old. Students may choose among 150 different occupational certificates, start training at their level of knowledge, and graduate once they have mastered the skills required for their certificate. New students are accepted the first class day of the week, 48 weeks a year. Graduations are held the last class day of the week, usually on Friday. Students are eligible to graduate once they have completed the competencies for the desired certificate. The MSC open-entry, open-exit, self-paced training formula has been replicated around the world.
In order to overcome the language barrier, RTAP students begin their training by attending ESOL classes until proficient enough to benefit from the skill training. Most of them continue taking language classes until their English skills are no longer a barrier to employment.
Each program cluster is competency based and stair stepped so that students are able to move easily into the next level. Each of MSC's programs have multiple exit points that lead to employment in the current job market, so students of varying abilities or with limited time can achieve success. Students know from the beginning exactly what skills are needed to obtain their certificate of completion and are able to progress at their own pace. Students start at their own level, whether it is beginning, intermediate, or advanced, and are encouraged to give the program enough time to learn the competencies for certificates at the highest level. The average length of time it takes students in all programs to earn the highest certificate is about six months. RTAP grant funds permit courses of study of six months, so if a student is unable to complete the program within that time frame, other monies are found to pay for the last months of training. At graduation, students receive the certificate equal to the highest competencies mastered. Realizing that the best jobs go to those with the highest-level certificates, the majority of students work toward and achieve the more advanced program competencies.
Students come in with their own personal goals, most commonly to get a good or better job. Others may come for personal enrichment. Instructors meet with students individually to discuss their goals and to make sure the program can accommodate them. While most students follow the prescribed competencies for their certificate, instructors may design a "special project" certificate that incorporates students' needs, such as upgrade training. For example, a machinist may want upgrade training in order to operate a computer numerical control (CNC) machine. Incumbent worker training is an area that MSC hopes to expand, ideally with fees paid by employers.
Individualized Case Management
Caseworkers work with the refugees to set up transportation and childcare, monitor their educational progress, and help refugee students with problems they might encounter in what can be overwhelming and compounding transition situations. Caseworkers bring potential students to MSC for a tour and serve as guides from program orientation through to completion. Refugees who do not qualify for RTAP are immediately urged to apply for a Pell Grant or other sources of financial aid. The caseworkers help students choose career clusters and are also responsible for taking students to job referrals provided by instructors. It is clear that MSC-RTAP caseworkers serve an important role from entry to exit in the progress of the refugees.
Innovative Hiring and Staff
In order to maintain their contacts with business and industry and keep abreast of current trends, instructors participate in various professional development activities. Instructors are members of industry associations and participate in various association activities. For instance, the American Welding Society has met at MSC; and the Arizona Tooling and Machining Association meets approximately once a year at the center. MSC hosts meetings, serves on committees, and works together at career and job fairs with industry associations.
Every faculty member is encouraged to attend six seminars per year for professional growth. Also, instructors spend at least one day in industry every year, visit area employers, and take advantage of upgrade training in their field. In addition, MSC gives instructors one hour of planning time in their daily schedule and holds an annual off-site training day for all staff.
Because so many refugees speak English as a second language, language and cultural differences offer a challenge to the faculty. Instructors hire previous refugee students as classroom aides in order to provide translation, moral support, and tutoring for the students. Instructors are very sensitive to cultural differences, and deal with students carefully and respectfully.
MSC's deep commitment to cultural sensitivity is exemplified in this recent scenario: During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Muslim students are required to pray four times daily. Their commitment to their training programs was a potential barrier to fulfilling their religious ritual of prayer. In order to allow Muslim students to pray during the day, staff set aside rooms for quiet reflection.
Because MSC is so diverse, students are paired with peers who are a little more advanced in the program. These peer mentoring relationships help overcome the language barrier as the peer mentor provides translation and supports students as they make the transition into American life and their training programs.
Furthermore, most refugees are not accustomed to American lifestyles, the MSC-RTAP program introduced a one-week Refugee Life Skills Class for women, taught in the refugees' native language. America's huge warehouse stores, area malls, and supermarkets intimidate many refugees, and they are not accustomed to American hygiene practices, credit-card use, time management, or workplace expectations. The one-week course covers such essentials, and, as a finale, the class takes a field trip to the largest shopping mall in Arizona and ends with a potluck luncheon of participants' native foods. In February 2003, by request, a similar class was offered to male refugees.
Collaboration With Local Business
Instructors are continually obtaining feedback from business partners in order to make changes to the curriculum within their own career clusters that make them more effective and responsive to the needs of students and industry. Instructors initiate contact with business partners or, more commonly, business partners call instructors to offer advice on the direction of the program. As a result of this type of feedback, additional certificates for medical assistance and A+ programming were created.
Collaboration With Social
In addition, through networked
local agencies, refugees are offered assistance in securing appropriate and
affordable housing. RTAP participants are provided free child care at more than
36 sites and approximately 3,500 miles per week in transportation to and from
MSC. MSC has partnerships linking it to over 50 civic, community, and cultural
organizations throughout Maricopa County. For example, there is a memorandum
of agreement between MSC, Maricopa County, and the City of Phoenix to produce
four job fairs a year. MSC has a partnership, now almost 22 years old, with
Rio Salado Community College to provide ESOL, basic skills, and GED preparation
training at MSC as a free service to the community. Refugee community leaders
meet monthly and provide feedback directly to the state and to MSC on ideas
to improve the program.
Our real focus is HIRE education,
which stands for Helping Individuals Reach Employment.
Since its inception in 1999, the award-winning Maricopa Skill Center Refugee Targeted Assistance Program to date has served 810 refugees. In 1999, the RTAP won the Maricopa Community College District Innovation of the Year Award, and in 2001 received one of two Exemplary Designations from the National Center for Career and Technical Education.
Following a six-month course of training, 90 percent of RTAP graduates are working in jobs within 30 days of graduation, almost all of them in areas for which they were trained. The indicators of success and program outcomes to date are remarkable:
The program has exceeded the state's performance measures each year. The standard target of a 70 percent completion rate has been surpassed each year, with RTAP students achieving a 95 percent completion rate. As a result, the program has not only been re-funded yearly, but has received a significant increase of funds each year based on having exceeded the performance standards.
Summary and Lessons Learned
Although the many functions of the
MSC-RTAP are process and outcomes based, the pride of the MSC-RTAP is found
in the many faces of the students, faculty, and staff. The idea of offering
refuge and safety in a tumultuous world is the foundation of American legacy
and liberty. As emphasized in the opening quote of Emma Lazarus, most of the
RTAP students come to America for "peace", and at the MSC-RTAP they find peace
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