LANSING, Mich. — 22 Afghan refugee students started school in Lansing last week, bringing the total number of refugee students in the district to 92.
These families have left Afghanistan for a host of different reasons. And at the Lansing School District’s request, no names of students, or specific schools were used and their faces are not shown on camera.
The district set up several classrooms across their schools specifically for refugee students. One such classroom teaches students from kindergarten to third grade.
For many of these students, the transition to Lansing schools can be difficult, in part because many coming from Afghanistan speak little English, and many only speak Farsi or Arabic.
To teach these students, the district hired teachers like Syeda Zohra, who speaks five languages, including those spoken by her students. Zohra has only been teaching this class for one week, but is already connecting with the students, and says the transition is going smoothly.
“She says everything, everything I like. Everything is good,” Zohra said, translating for one third grade student speaking Farsi.
Another first grade student said her favorite part of school is outdoor activities, and a third grader said “my favorite thing is to learn English so I can study more.”
The process of bringing these students to school begins with St. Vincent Catholic Charities contacting the district with information about the family’s arrival and the children’s ages. They are then enrolled in school.
“After they complete the enrollment, they come here to the Welcome Center, and we do an assessment which determines their language proficiency level,” Trisha Black, Special Populations Coordinator at Lansing School District said. “And we also do a distress screener to see if there's any type of trauma or other underlying things that we should be aware of.”
Zohra said that as a teacher and an immigrant herself, she is sensitive to her students’ needs and wants to do everything she can to make them feel welcome.
“The mother feeling that I have, I have not only for my own children, I have this feeling for all children,” Zohra said. “So if I see somebody sad, I never try to hide them. If their tears is on my clothes, it is no problem. If I'm feeling that if my child cry, I can not leave my child away. Just give them this. I am just telling them I'm here for you, to take care of you. I just want them to make sure that they're safe.”
Sergio Keck, the Lansing School District’s Deputy Superintendent of Special Populations, said the district has been working to hire more educators like Zohra that can connect with these students, as well as translators for inside the classroom. The district has even purchased dictionaries and special devices that can translate one spoken language to another in real time.
“The experience of these families, as they got out of Afghanistan was very tragic and almost traumatic,” Keck said. “But as soon as they came to our schools, you can see all the children that are smiling, happy, and they're going home and telling the parents all these news stories about their lives.“
Just in the past month, the district has expanded refugee student services to six schools in the district and is working on expanding even further.
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