JFS Perspectives

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Acclaimed Denver Author Helen Thorpe Visits JFS

Acclaimed Denver Author Helen Thorpe Visits JFS

A group of approximately 50 JFS staff and community members were spellbound by renowned Denver author Helen Thorpe as she offered highlights of her new book, The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom at a lunch-n-learn recently hosted by JFS.

The Newcomers bookThe book documents a classroom of newly arrived refugee high school students as they learn English and transition to life in Colorado. Thorpe spent a year researching the book in a South High School classroom dedicated to teaching and assimilating refugee students from all over the world, including The Republic of the Congo, Burma, Iraq, Mexico, and Eritrea. The book documents her observations of the students’ experiences.

JFS’s International KidSuccess program played a key role in the “Newcomer Center” classroom, offering counseling services and support to the students to promote success in school and in their transition to life in America. The class is focused on teaching English as a second language while working to integrate the students into the school. Many of the students come from war-torn regions and have witnessed unspeakable violence and experienced significant trauma.

Helen Thorpe In addition to the instructor and interpreters, the classroom was staffed by JFS International KidSuccess therapist Paulina Ng, who facilitated a cultural adjustment group and a mentoring group, in addition to conducting individual therapy with the students. Thorpe acknowledged the incredible contributions of the International KidSuccess program in helping the students open up, deal with their troubled pasts, learn English, and ultimately succeed in their assimilation to America.

According to the New York Times, the book, “is a delicate and heartbreaking mystery story, as Thorpe slowly uncovers the secret catastrophes in the lives of young immigrants at South High School in Denver. They arrive mute, and they gradually gain the words and confidence to describe the journeys that led to the classroom.”

Thorpe’s talk to JFS staff was fascinating and reaffirming of the agency’s work with refugee students. It became clear that the International KidSuccess program is making a big impact on these students and their ability to succeed in their new home. We are grateful to Helen Thorpe for sharing her insights.