Siblings playing together.

Explorer’s Program
The Village Family Service Center
Fargo, North Dakota

About our project:

Fargo’s school population is a diverse group that includes recently resettled refugees from places such as Somalia, Sudan, Bosnia, Liberia, Iraq and other countries.  Fargo Public Schools reports 47 different dialects spoken in areas schools including Bosnian, Somali, Sudanese, Asian and Liberian.  Many of the students suffer from emotional and behavioral problems stemming from their experiences as refugees.  These experiences include having seen family members die, having been ripped from their homes, being orphaned and/or having witnessed other unimaginable atrocities.  The Explorer’s Program provides group and individual narrative therapy to students at Kennedy Elementary and Discovery Middle Schools.  Additional components of the Explorer’s Program include individual mental health screenings for the children, education groups in social skills and anger management, playground “coaching” to all students, an after-school support program for children and families at CHARISM, a neighborhood center, and referrals to community mental health services as needed. For more information, view our poster.

Demographic data:

North Dakota:

Our work:

The project has the following objectives and goals:  to improve the overall climate of the school, to ensure that refugee students have access to evidenced based and culturally appropriate therapeutic services and support, to assist parents in connecting to community resources for mental health and other support services for new Americans, and to increase the involvement and participation of parents of refugee students in their children’s school.  The Explorer’s Program has served 40 students through the narrative therapy group and individual therapy. The groups have covered topics such as appropriate expressions of anger, making and maintaining friendships, overcoming loneliness and isolation, connecting with family members who are living in another country, and strengthening the adaptive skills and qualities in each of the children.  In addition to the direct services, the program provides social skills coaching in the natural setting of the school during the unstructured times of the school day (before class, lunchroom and playground times).  This coaching is for all students in the school and strengthens not only the immigrant students’ social skills but also all students in the school.  The program is also providing training to the CHARISM afterschool program staff and the lunch room supervisors on developing needed skills to diffuse difficult situations and strategies for children when they are upset.  The program utilizes a “Cultural Mentor” who is recent refugee or immigrant adult and who works closely with the students, the school, and the CHARISM program and the parents.  The Cultural Mentor has been able to bridge the cultural gap and create stronger connections with parents, school and the Explorer’s program.

Our Partners:

What we are learning:

  • Even children with serious behavior difficulties want to feel understood and to be accepted by adults and peers.
  • Improving children’s behavior requires more than discipline—it takes relationships.  Children will behave better for people whom they want to please.  Children want to please people when they trust that people care about them.
  • Parents of refugee children are not disinterested in their children’s academic and behavioral progress; rather these parents are working very long hours, with limitations in transportation and language.  When providers are purposeful and persistent, parents are willing to work with them for the betterment of their children.

    For more information about this project, contact Sandi Zaleski at