Feen-Calligan part of research team that received grant to help schools support youth refugees and their families

head shot of Holly Feen-Calligan
Holly Feen-Calligan

Holly Feen-Calligan, associate professor of art therapy in the Wayne State University College of Education, is part of a team of researchers who received a $516,119 grant from the Office of Global Michigan State Refugee Program, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Education, for the Conflict Trauma Technical Assistance for School Districts project.

The purpose of the project is to provide assistance, consultation and support to newcomer consultants — individuals who assist youth refugees and their families make the transition to the United States — in six Michigan intermediate school districts (ISDs). Technical assistance will focus on conflict and war-related trauma response and enhance the capacity of school districts to use culturally appropriate tools to understand and intervene in cases where students have been affected by war/conflict traumas.

Dr. Arash Javanbahkt is the principal investigator for this project. He is an associate professor in the Wayne State School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, a psychiatrist, and director of the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research Clinic (STARC). Co-investigators include Feen-Calligan and Viktor Burlaka, associate professor in the Wayne State School of Social Work and a licensed clinical social worker. Lana Grasser, a former graduate assistant involved in the STARC Lab and Jovanovic Lab/Detroit Trauma Project and a postdoctoral fellow in the Neuroscience and Novel Therapeutics Unit Emotion and Development Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health, is also involved.

“I am excited about collaborating with Arash, Viktor and other members of the research team to support teachers, administrators and other staff as they seek to ensure youth refugees and their families have the tools and resources they need to transition to the U.S. successfully,” said Feen-Calligan.

Services the team will provide to teachers, school personnel, and other service providers who work with youth refugees and their families include training on how trauma impacts learning and social integration, consultation on program development and implementation, feedback listening sessions and data collection/assessment, facilitation of connections with preferred therapists, consultation and assistance with grant writing and community implementation, recommendations for classroom-based and after-school activities, and training educators to use creative art and movement techniques to facilitate stress relief. Additional support will be extended to ISD personnel, local school districts and refugee school impact providers in the state’s six most impacted counties: Kent, Ingham, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Wayne.

About one-third of refugees resettled in the United States are school-aged children. According to Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice, school districts serve more than 16,000 immigrant students in K-12 public schools, including 1,000 Ukraine refugee children headed to Michigan and thousands of Afghan families.

“These children need help socially and psychologically adjusting to U.S. schools, especially since many arrive having had disruption in their education and limited knowledge of English,” said Feen-Calligan. “Teachers and school personnel do their best to accommodate refugee students, but often without much preparation, as refugees are typically resettled with little advance notice.

The research team is partnering with nonprofit organizations, schools and government organizations that offer services and support to refugees. These include the State of Michigan Refugee Services, Arab American Cultural and Community Center, and Samaritas.

The project was awarded funding for two years, beginning in October 2022. The team is developing strategies on the most effective methods for reaching school districts.

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