GIL is the only organization in mid-Michigan that enables these refugee and immigrant students to earn accredited diplomas. Although some GED programs exist, the GED tests tend to be insurmountable for English language learners.
“It’s a neat group of people to work with,” said Paula Frantz, program administrator for GIL. “They’re so grateful for the opportunity and they’ve really become family here. Seeing the different cultures come together is also kind of unique.”
Students enrolled at GIL are from Nepal, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Bhutan, Liberia, Guatemala, Congo, Vietnam and Mexico. They’ve had students in past years from about a dozen other countries, including Tanzania and Afghanistan.
“They all become such good friends and they help each other out,” Frantz said.
The program provides the students with teachers, tutors, classroom time and computers. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays in the First Presbyterian Church of Lansing. Students come and go as their schedules permit.
“Many of them are working and have family commitments, so they go through the program at their own pace,” Frantz said.
Each June, GIL holds a graduation ceremony. Michigan State University donates caps and gowns, and GIL buys tassels for the students to keep. June 2014 marked the fourth graduating class; 42 students have completed the program so far.
“We’ve never had to turn a student away,” Frantz said. “Our dream someday is to become our own private school.”