Professor Honored for Literacy Work with Refugee Youth

To be an immigrant or refugee in the United States is to constantly face challenges with employment, transportation, healthcare, education, and everyday errands. “Their path to the United States was not easy. They have an enormous amount of strength and courage,” says Pitt Education faculty member Amanda Godley.

Godley has made it her mission to provide literacy education for refugees and immigrants to help them improve their quality of life in Pittsburgh. Godley was part of a team that was honored with the University of Pittsburgh’s 2020 Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement Partnerships of Distinction Award. The award was conferred at the Community Engaged Scholarship Forum in March at a ceremony attended by hundreds of faculty, staff, and community leaders.

The award recognized the partnership between the University of Pittsburgh Honors College, where Godley is a faculty fellow, and the organizations Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment (FORGE), Keep it Real, and the Alliance for Refugee Youth Support and Education (ARYSE). FORGE and Keep it Real are both student organizations at the University of Pittsburgh. ARYSE is a local community organization.

Godley is the faculty advisor for FORGE. The organization has 50 active student members who provide in-home tutoring and local high school tutoring for refugees and immigrants in the community. With Godley’s guidance, FORGE president Supriya Avadhanula designed a culturally responsive tutoring curriculum.

“Professor Godley is the perfect mentor for this kind of work,” said Avadhanula. Avadhanula said that Godley helped her learn how to approach problems and provided useful resources as she designed the tutoring curriculum.

Keep it Real, also a student organization, focuses on tutoring Somali-Bentu refugees in Pittsburgh. In the last two decades, hundreds of Somali-Bentu refugees have settled in Pittsburgh.

ARYSE, the community partner, aims to empower immigrant and refugee youth in Pittsburgh. ARYSE offers several out-of-school programs for immigrant and refugee youth, such as a summer academy and a girls’ art and maker group.

“This award speaks to the strength of the partnership between the University and ARYSE,” said Godley. “Deep long-lasting partnerships are the key to success in this kind of work.”

In her work, Godley focuses on improving English literacy for refugee families. Literacy encompasses learning both the written and the spoken language.

Godley first learned about the needs and issues of immigrant students while working as an equity consultant in public schools when she was a PhD student at the University of California Berkeley. Through summer tutoring programs in Pittsburgh, Godley learned about the circumstances of  immigrant and refugee youth in the local community. She realized how difficult it was for many to find the appropriate learning materials and wanted to fill the gap.

Leigh Patel, associate dean for equity and justice at Pitt Education, has also worked closely with migrant and refugee populations through separate projects.

“Migrants and refugees are leaving their homes not because they just want to try something else but because they are pushed out by unlivable conditions or the threat of violence or death. A lot of migrants and refugees come from places where there has been an increase in militarization. Oftentimes, there was an interaction between the United States and the country that escalated that,” said Patel.

“The work of supporting refugee and migrant students aligns closely with our School of Education’s mission to further equity and justice,” said Patel.

Godley says that now is the time to improve resources for immigrants and refugees.

“We are at a critical point. With more immigrants and refugees settling in Pittsburgh, we hope to provide more resources and partnerships to empower these communities.”

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