ISBE & IDHS Announce National Conference

2007 Conference Highlights Illinois' Influx of Refugees From Burundi, Burma, and Iraq

The Illinois State board of Education (ISBE) and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) announced today that several state agencies are working with refugee and immigration advocates to focus on ways to assist refugee and immigrant children and their families during the 2007 National Refugee and Immigrant Conference. The two-day conference, on October 22-23, at the Holiday Inn Mart in Chicago brings together healthcare professionals, educators, school counselors and social workers from throughout the nation to study the special needs of our refugee and immigrant populations, specifically focusing on needs of new arrivals from Burundi, Burma and Iraq.

"With refugees from more than 30 countries now rebuilding their lives and homes in Illinois, our student population is changing and our schools and social service networks have to adapt so we can provide necessary services to a very diverse clientele," said Christopher A. Koch, State Superintendent of Education. "This national conference provides our teachers and school administrators an excellent opportunity to be updated on best practices in educational, health and family service practices for working with refugee and immigrant students."

This is the fourth year for the National Refugee and Immigrant Conference. The conference offers a national opportunity to identify issues, emphasize best practices and highlight innovations among groups and individuals working in this growing area. While organized for Illinois teachers, refugee social service agency staff and agencies associated with health issues of refugees and immigrants, this event has grown into a national conference as it draws presenters and educators from other states. The 2007 National Refugee and Immigrant Conference is administered through the federal Refugee Children School Impact Grant, which is administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services.

"This conference is an opportunity to hear from other professionals about what works and share experiences with colleagues from other states," said IDHS Secretary Carol L. Adams, Ph.D. "It is particularly helpful in providing services to new refugee groups, such as our newest arrivals from Burundi, Burma, and Iraq."

Refugees are individuals who enter the United States under the Immigration and Naturalization Service classification of refugee. There are more 30 countries represented by refugees living in Illinois. Teachers of refugee students often serve children coming from non-literate backgrounds, who formerly may have lived in displaced persons camps around the world and whose families may have fled war zones. Such children have specific educational and socio-emotional needs.

ISBE and DHS have awarded 10 scholarships for teachers of refugee students in downstate Illinois districts to attend the conference. The four districts receiving the scholarships are:

  • Rockford School District 205
  • East Moline Elementary School District 37
  • Moline School District 40
  • Rock Island/Milan School District 41

This conference is sponsored by IDHS, ISBE, the Illinois Department of Public Health, various other state government agencies and social service agencies, Chicago Public Schools, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Adult Learning Resource Center.

Earlier this year, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich opened the state's first Welcoming Center for immigrants and refugees. The center in Melrose Park is part of the Governor's New American's Initiative and will serve as the first point of contact for the thousands of people seeking citizenship in Illinois each year. It serves as a centralized resource and service center and provide information and referrals for New Americans in addition to workshops and orientation sessions.

The Office of New Americans and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) are leading this effort, with support from nine other state agencies. The Illinois Welcoming Center is located at 1708 Main Street in Melrose Park.

Since 2003, Gov. Blagojevich has taken several executive and legislative steps to protect immigrants and help them be successful, including launching the All Kids program that will make Illinois the first state in the nation to provide comprehensive, affordable health insurance to all of the state's uninsured children.