PAL program connects refugees with older Dallas ISD counterparts

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Meelina Khanal, a junior at Emmett J. Conrad High School, would have loved for a friend to teach her about her new adopted country when she moved to the United States at the age of 14.

Specifically, a friend who could have taught her the language, customs, and, most importantly, guided her through the school’s curriculum would have been invaluable. Now, as a mentor in a pilot program that matches older refugee students with their younger counterparts, she is able to provide that help that she would have loved.

“When I was new here, I wished I had someone like me,” she said. “I wish I had someone that helped me out and guided me. That would have helped me be really focused.”

Through the pilot program known as Conrad Peer Assistance Leadership, or PAL, Meelina shares advice and insight with her mentee at Lee A. McShan Elementary. Meelina is one of many Conrad students who participate in PAL.

Kourtnei Billups, the McShan Elementary administrator who coordinates the program, said PAL allows immigrant students to connect with someone closer to their age. The students are more comfortable communicating with their mentors whose experiences reflect their own, she said.

The Conrad PAL teacher, Christi Burrell-Jones, had no doubt that she wanted to be in charge of the new program when Conrad Principal David Hamilton approached her about it. Burrell-Jones said PAL is a win for McShan and a win for Conrad.

The mentors and mentees meet three times a week to work on reading and writing assignments. McShan Principal Dayanna Carson said the newcomer students’ reading levels have immensely improved since the start of the PAL program this school year.

“Programs like this give (our students) the opportunity to succeed,” Carson said. “It’s very valuable for the Conrad students to be that liaison and support system for their mentees.”

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