State Press Play: How can ASU students help local refugee youth achieve academic success?

Explore the Refugee Integration Stability and Education student organization with its executive director


Podcaster Farah Eltohamy sits down with Brenley Markowitz, an ASU senior majoring in global studies and executive director of RISE Tutoring. Markowitz explains the history, gives an overall rundown of RISE and shares some personal experiences from her time in the organization.


Farah Eltohamy: The topic of this podcast is RISE, a student organization here at ASU. According to its OrgSync page, RISE is dedicated to helping local refugee youth achieve academic and personal success through tutoring and mentorship. 

Brenley Markowitz: My name is Brenley Markowitz, I'm the executive director of RISE Tutoring. RISE stands for Refugee Integration Stability and Education, and it's a refugee tutoring organization. 

Farah Eltohamy: So Brenley, how did you first get involved with RISE? 

Brenley Markowitz: It was my sophomore year, and I saw an ad in the Barrett honors digest, and I had previously interned with Refugee Focus the summer after my freshman year and I was just looking for opportunities to get more involved, because when I interned I realized how passionate I was about it. 

Farah Eltohamy: How did your work in Refugee Focus impact your life, and how did that all translate over to college and RISE? 

Brenley Markowitz: So basically my freshman year, it was at the height of the Syrian crisis. And I was just seeing all these images of all this human suffering, and I was just like "I have to do something about this." So I started doing a lot of research, and I found out that there were a lot of refugees in the Phoenix community. So I applied for that internship, and I just really connected with it. I was like leading a day care program for refugee kids so I was planning activities, arts and crafts and sports. Seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing that they had been through so much but they were still able to be kids. It touched my heart, and I knew that moving forward I had to continue with it. 

Farah Eltohamy: So can you provide a rundown about the history of RISE? 

Brenley Markowitz: RISE was started in 2013 when the American Muslim Women's Association contacted an ASU student who was involved, and they let her know that there was a group of Somali refugee students in the Chandler area who needed help in school. So she gathered a group of ASU students and it was very grassroots at first. That's the way she describes it. They were tutoring out of the kids' homes, and she was really trying to build it into something. Over time we were established as an ASU student organization and we started recruiting tutors and kind of built ourselves up and I came in at a very transitional time because it was a point where we were starting to kind of establish ourselves and move towards building up our education program. Shortly after I joined we expanded to Papago Elementary School, our first location, we moved from tutoring out of a mosque to tutoring at AMWA's office. Since then we've been developing more and more, and it's really amazing to see the growth. 

Farah Eltohamy: Can you give a little rundown about all the different locations and what goes on? 

Brenley Markowitz: We now have three locations, so it varies greatly per location. At our first location which is at AMWA's office in Mesa, we've known those kids forever. We're extremely close with them, a lot of tutors have known the kids for years. So a lot of the kids who've been in the program forever are older, they'll typically bring their homework or they'll know what areas they're struggling with in school and ask our help in those areas. There's a huge age range which means that we have to tailor what we're doing to every student. Over time we've gotten to know where each student struggles the most and what they need the most help in. So each week we determine what we're going to work on with each student. We track their progress, so after each tutoring session we record what we worked on and so we keep trying to build on that and help them progress throughout school. 

Then at our Papago Elementary School location, our kids are younger for the most part. Our youngest is five and our oldest is 13. We still do have that age range and we do approach tutoring the same way. It's nice because we are in a classroom, so we have access to all those materials but we basically just assess where the kids are at. We've been working at that location for about two years. Our students at our Papago location haven't been in the U.S. as long as our other students. They miss a lot of those very foundational elementary school years where they were learning basic spelling and basic addition, multiplication, things like that. We do have to work a lot more with those students on the basics. Over time when we see that progress, when they start to get those basics down, we move on to more advanced stuff and try to make sure they're up to their grade level. 

So at our third location, which we just expanded to in October of last year, is Valencia Newcomer School which is a one year transitional program for refugee and migrant students. It's a brand new program and we formed a partnership with the school so for now we've been volunteering in the classrooms. They currently have 134 students and they only have like five teachers, definitely understaffed and they can use that support. And we're hoping to build a tutoring program designed for the students who are struggling most. So that's kind of our future plans for that location.

Farah Eltohamy: So do you have any last words you'd like to share? 

Brenley Markowitz: I think it's so important for us to share the stories of refugees and people and learn about people who are different from ourselves. In today's world, we get a lot of superficial information, and it's easy to take those things at face value. And I think it's so important to recognize the humanity of people because refugees have been through so much more than we can even imagine. To provide the tiniest bit of emotional support to them I think is really really essential. Just to recognize that they're human beings. 

RISE has completely changed my life, and it's made me so passionate about helping others. I love the kids so much and all the tutors love the kids and they look forward to seeing the kids every single week. I think that there are so many opportunities for people to get involved in the community, you just have to look for them. It's definitely worthwhile, and it's incredibly rewarding. 

Farah Eltohamy: For the State Press, I'm Farah Eltohamy. 


Reach the reporter at feltoham@asu.edu and on Twitter @farahelto

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