Young Refugees Experience First Day of School in Kennewick - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Young Refugees Experience First Day of School in Kennewick Classroom

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KENNEWICK, Wash. - Tuesday is the first day of class for Kennewick schools, but for some students it's a foreign experience.

Young refugees placed in Kennewick go to Westgate Elementary to begin their studies. And for many it's not just the first time they're communicating in English, it's also their first time inside a classroom.

At Westgate Elementary there are 50 refugee students from countries like Somalia, Burma, Sudan, and others. They joined their classmates, bewildered by school, to take the first steps toward becoming a student.

"They're learning from modeling. They're doing what their classmates are doing and so they're picking up how to become a student just from watching the other kids," said Westgate Elementary Principal, Dale Kern.

English as a second language classes begin next week when they'll learn the basic words and things like stand up from your desk. But for now the young refugees just try to assimilate into the school culture.

"They've never sat in a chair. They've never been at a table. They've never held a pencil in their hand or had a book in their hand. So it's really quite overwhelming for them. Some children they look around and they're just amazed at everything that's in here," said ESL teacher, Rita Rittenberg.

The refugee students seem overwhelmed at first but they learn quickly. They spend half their day in ESL classes and the rest of their time with the other students.

"I learned the ABC's and the numbers. They teach me everything. What to learn about," said refugee student Ifrah Jimaale.

Jimaale is Somalian and came to the U.S. from a refugee camp in Kenya. She started at Westgate in kindergarten and now is in 4th grade. She says she likes school and wants to be a good student.

"I want to get straight As and be good at school and stuff," she said.

Teachers tell NBC Right Now a lot of the work ahead for these refugee students can be frustrating, but they catch on quickly and often excel.