The Bowling Green International Center is working with a special stakeholder group that will address local school superintendents’ concerns that their schools have been “overwhelmed” by the number of refugee arrivals in recent years.

“We’re barely getting by,” Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton said.

Clayton was joined Thursday by Bowling Green Independent School District Superintendent Gary Fields at the International Center’s fourth quarterly meeting with local resettlement stakeholders. Together, the two superintendents emphasized a need for what they described as a more sustainable approach to refugee resettlement.

“We’re at capacity,” Fields said, describing the dearth of resources available to current English learner students in his school district.

By the end of the school year, Fields said, his district anticipates reaching the 20 percent mark for students classified as English learners. In Warren County Public Schools, one in five students fall into that category.

“As of September, we will have 190 Swahili speakers in our school district,” he said. “We have one translator.”

The situation is similar in Warren County Public Schools.

Warren Central High School Principal Joey Norman also attended the International Center meeting Thursday and said there are 159 students classified as English learners at WCHS. That doesn’t include the nearby GEO International High School on the high school’s campus. Another 58 WCHS students are “monitored,” meaning they are moving out of English learner status.

“We have three certified teachers to serve those 217 kids,” Norman said. “That’s 70 kids per teacher.”

In some cases, due to the nature of their persecution and displacement from their homeland, refugees have interrupted educational experiences.

Bearing the responsibility for educating those students is sometimes a Herculean effort, Clayton said, citing an example of a 19-year-old student with no formal education.

“Where do we put them? We’ll hug them. We’ll feed them. We’ll clothe them, but we’re not miracle workers,” he said.

During the meeting Thursday – the final quarterly meeting of the International Center’s fiscal year ending Sept. 30 – the center shared a report of its total refugee arrivals.

Overall, the center received 513 refugees as of Sept. 20. That’s up from 297 refugees resettled in Bowling Green during the previous fiscal year.

Most of those primary refugees – 328 in total – came from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Refugees arrivals from Myanmar came in second at 126 refugees. More than half of those arrivals were children under age 17.

As a state, Kentucky ranks fifth overall in the nation for refugee arrivals, having received 1,377 refugees as of Aug. 31. Kentucky falls just behind California, which has received 1,627 arrivals this fiscal year by that date.

According to the numbers compiled by the Kentucky Office for Refugees, the country is close to reaching the cap of 30,000 refugee arrivals set by President Donald Trump’s administration for this fiscal year.

On Thursday, the Trump administration announced plans to slash that number to 18,000 for the upcoming federal fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, a historic low for the nation’s refugee resettlement program.

Despite the uncertainty around what number the Trump administration would set, the Bowling Green International Center has seen a steady stream of arrivals.

This is mainly due to the role a refugee’s U.S. ties play in the resettlement process.

Refugees can ask to be resettled with family members already established in the country. The International Center also sees a significant number of “secondary migrants,” who initially resettle in other parts of the country and then travel to Bowling Green, often seeking work.

On Thursday, both superintendents said they receive a limited amount of state and federal dollars to educate English learner students. Often, the cost comes out of their own general fund.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting Thursday, Fields estimated that more than 1 percent of the nation’s refugee arrivals have resettled in Bowling Green this year. By appearing at the meeting, Fields said both superintendents wanted to start a conversation with other local stakeholders.

“We need help,” he said. “We don’t think we’re able to provide the best services possible for these students.”

Clayton made it clear that the community is not opposed to resettling refugees, but stressed that schools need resources to accomplish that goal.

“If you asked our staff, top to bottom, they will just rave about our English language learners – how much effort they put into the work, how much they appreciate our work as educators,” he said.

Next week, an advisory group of local resettlement stakeholders will hold a meeting at the Warren County Public Library’s Bob Kirby Branch to discuss next steps in tackling the issue.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

(7) comments

Dr. Strangelove

Evolution? Oh yes! Evolving into a focus all resources on the 1% as usual and expect the rest of us to pay higher taxes. Typical multi-cultural tripe using the generic worn out term of diversity. I've seen this kind of crap in other parts of the U.S. and it's not good. Let's set back the rest of the students so a 19 year old with no education can fit in in kindergarten or wherever they put him. And make sure we can speak any dialect of language for them so they don't feel a lack of inclusion. Otherwise it's all our fault.

Le Ecrivain

1% of city population being replaced annually via Democratic Republic of Congo. California with ten times the population and a massive economy takes only a hundred or so more individuals than Kentucky annually. Curious about who these state-holders are. Real Estate developers? Factories like those ones that specifically want only the newly arrived folks to work there? The government officials running grant funded operations to increase the commute times of the citizens so those citizens eventually leave? The people selling the gates that are going up around the communities near the South End of Town and the exit 26 area where the two rich zones are? The doctors who get the money from Medicaid and live in those zones? Who are these stakeholders? Who is representing the working men and women of Bowling Green who lived here for a decade and went to school here and are now being pushed out in the name of 1% or more annually? Who represents the people being pushed out of their own city? Oh, that's right, nobody.

A Single Voice for Good

Evolution is critical for survival. Our city must evolve and welcome the hardworking folks who are trying to improve their lives and the lives of their children. I applaud the families for pushing to be here! Thanks for making my city diverse and colorful. Show us your skills and talents, and become valuable to all.

Le Ecrivain

Easy for you to say. You aren't the one who's been negatively affected by working conditions and employer expectations go from first world in the 1990s to third world in 20-teens. They've made working conditions so bad that the citizens couldn't have children and so now they will import entire school systems full of children and their parents will be priority targets for employment, further driving down working conditions. It used to be patently ludicrious to give pregnant women difficulty at work. Now the state had to make a law assuring the new third world employers that they needed extra urination breaks. Schedules all over the place are rotating 12's instead of the stable 8's that people were able to build lives around in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Just because something is evolving doesn't make it better. That's the naturalistic fallacy. The soviet union evolved.

Enough Already

This is not "Evolution". This is Democrat party forced immigration imposed by Barrack Obama and paid for by the taxpayers of Kentucky. If you vote Democrat you support this stupidity to raise your own taxes, displace your own families, and fulfill Obama's promise to "fundamentally Change America". Only idiots and Democrats (but I repeat myself) are for this national suicide model. Close down The International Center, refuse any more refugees to Bowling Green and insist Congress reduce new refugee arrivals to zero. Any new immigration needs to happen within the immigration laws on the books, not magical status given to every 3rd world person who says they are refugees.

Absolutely Positively

The evolution created by importing large numbers of people who aren't capable of supporting themselves isn't the evolution that a city needs. We'd all like to think that the refugees are for the most part a group of skilled and talented people who have something to contribute. Those of us who have invested significant amounts of time and effort know otherwise.

Absolutely Positively

The people pushing for this for whatever reasons understand that they won't have to actually deal with this. Martha Deputy knew that she'd never have to worry about refugees moving to the Beech Bend Rd & Garvin Ln intersection. The others know this, too.

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