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School Support Services: Building Connections Program


Building Connections links together school, family, student teacher and community. Building Connections is a holistic approach, which provides for small group sessions for children, individual counseling, teacher training, and parental training. A school based intervention for African immigrant and refugee children in the metropolitan schools of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

The purpose of the Building Connections is to:

  • – Strengthen the emotional and social resilience of African immigrant and refugee students and identify and refer those needing mental health treatment.
  • – Increase African immigrant and refugee families’ abilities to promote the emotional and social resilience of their children and prevent children’s mental health problems.
  • – Increase teachers’ knowledge of emotional and behavioral challenges of African immigrant and refugee children and improve their skills for more effective student support and classroom.
  • – Assess the psycho-social needs and difficulties of African refugee and immigrant children in school setting.
  • – Assess the impact of group and individual intervention on these children.
  • – Provide a supportive environment for children to express feelings, thoughts, and questions related to their refugee and immigration experiences and to assist them with coping with these challenges and developing their own identity.
  • – Facilitate development of goals related to their personal issues and needs and for working together as a group, inclu8ding confidentiality, respect, good listening skills, and regular attendance.
  • – Engage children in exercises to enhance resilience and emotional development, such as using life maps to tell their stories.
  • – Integrate individual stories and life maps with African culture using African poetry, songs, fables, proverbs and art.
  • – Build appropriate social skills.

Criteria for Selection of Children:
In determining which children would benefit from individual and groups sessions, teachers are asked to help identify children who might be showing signs of:

  • – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • – Acculturative Stress
  • – Anxiety
  • – Emotional and Behavioral problems
  • – Peer relationship

Additionally, teachers are asked to identify children who are either having trouble making friends, are bullies or are afraid of bullies, or show a lack of respect.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is common among African immigrant and refugee children.  It can show up as a physical symptom:

  • – Headaches
  • – Nightmares
  • – Heightened arousal
  • – Fatigue
  • – Inability to sleep


Cognitive distortions can also occur:

  • – Negative perceptions
  • – Intrusive recollections
  • – Self-blame
  • – Loss of interest
  • – Impaired memory
  • – Suicidal ideation
  • – Poor concentration


Behavior indicators can occur with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  • – Clinging
  • – Withdrawal
  • – Agitation
  • – Isolation
  • – Repetitive play
  • – Startled reactions


Acculturative Stress:

The acculturation process is linked to acculturative stress and accompanying emotional and behavioral problems, such as depression and anxiety, feelings of alienation, heightened psychosomatic symptoms, low self-esteem, and identity confusion issues.


Anxiety and Fear:

Children, who have experienced significant trauma, tend to have anxiety and fear.  These changes can appear as:

  • – An appetite disorder
  • – Impulsive behavior
  • – Hyperactivity
  • – Mood changes from aggression to depression or withdrawal
  • – Sleep difficulties
  • – Some loss of previous functioning, or a slow rate of acquiring new developmental tasks.


Peer Relationship:

These children can experience an inability to make friends due to the isolation they may feel during their resettlement process and their transitory way of life.  Accordingly, please consider children who have this difficult for candidates for the small group sessions.



These children are typically mistreated by people in their homeland.  As a result, they either become a bully or they become very afraid of bullies in school.  This program also helps the children deal with school bullies or overcome being a bully.  Please identify any child who is either a bully or is afraid of bullies.


Lack of Respect:

These children can develop a lack of respect for authority, due to the way they were treated in their homeland.  These children feel betrayed and experience a loss of trust and dignity, because the people that were in charge and responsible for taking care of them did not take care of them.  This program helps them overcome this sense of betrayal.

If teachers are having difficulty making determinations, please contact Dr. Oni at (612) 749-3309.  Dr. Oni would be happy to assist you with the identification process.