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Preschool hosts refugee children

Program eases children into kindergarten

Preschoolers at La Jolla United Methodist Church Nursery School had a unique cultural exchange last week when they met children their own age from Myanmar, Somalia and Bhutan.

The exchange, called First Things First, allows refugee and American preschoolers to meet one another to help the refugees assimilate before starting kindergarten. The program is a part of the International Rescue Committee, which helps immigrants from East Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia learn basic skills necessary for living in the United States.

“They’ve never had a chance to experience education in a formal setting, so a lot of it is learning the routines, starting to learn English and really becoming comfortable in their environment,” said Colleen Krause, program manager of the Community and Family Strengthening Program.

About six years ago, the nursery school began the exchange program, said Becky Candra, the nursery school’s director.

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Last year, the preschoolers from La Jolla wrote letters and sent self-portraits to the refugee children at the International Rescue Committee. The two groups of children later met each other at a park in southeast San Diego and exchanged valentines and played in the park. This year, the preschool in La Jolla hosted the refugee children.

On Friday, the children sat in a circle and sang songs and listened to Candra read them a story.

Later, they played outside, and despite the language barrier, the children happily interacted with one another.

“We found it’s a really good way for children to get to know other children of other cultures. They have found that there are many similarities between each other, and they picked out children to write back to,” Candra said.

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“I think they get a beginning understanding that people are more alike than different, and that kids are kids and like to play and they get the opportunity to see that they can make a difference in other people’s lives by being friends.”

Krause said that the recession could lead to the elimination of First Things First. Organizers are planning a fundraiser in May.

For more information, visit

www.theirc.org/sandiego

.