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In This Kentucky Town, Refugees Can Go to a Public High School Designed for Them

Faris Nakhal was walking home after work late one night in Damascus, the Syrian capital, when two men grabbed him and hit him over the head. They held the teenager captive for 24 days until his father, a driver for the United States ambassador to Syria, got enough money together to pay the ransom.

His family had been reluctant to leave Syria, but after that, fearing something worse might happen, they applied for asylum in the United States. And because education was second only to safety for Faris’ parents, when they finally arrived in Kentucky in February, they immediately enrolled Faris and his younger sister, Rana, in school.

To their surprise, Faris’ school in their adopted hometown of Bowling Green, was filled entirely with students who had similar stories of violence, displacement and survival. There were Somali, Iraqi, Burmese, Bhutanese, Ethiopian and Latin American teenagers — all learning English, math, history and science in an 11-room, domed building.