Sunday, October 23, 2016

Welcoming Refugees

Several recent crises around the world have resulted in an influx of refugees fleeing to friendlier lands, including the United States.  My school is within walking distance of an apartment complex that has been welcoming refugees for years.  During my tenure, I have welcomed students from Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sudan and as of last month, Syria.  While these students come in with boundless enthusiasm for education, they do have a unique set of needs.  Here are some tips for welcoming refugee students:
  • Reach Out to Your Local Agency: Refugees enter the United States with the assistance of a refugee agency or sponsor.  I have reached out to the local refugee agency to arrange for students with interrupted education to receive extra tutoring as well as check up on families when I received reports that there was insufficient food in the home.  In turn, they have invited my department to community events. You can find the refugee agency that serves your local area through the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
  • Be on the Lookout for Trauma: Many of the refugee students I have worked with have experienced a great deal of trauma.  Keep in mind that some students may do a better job of masking trauma than others.  While I never force a student to talk, I do line up a support team in advance so that I am prepared to assist a student when they do decide to share information with me.
  • Be Aware of Dietary Restrictions: Many of my refugee students practice religions which prohibit the consumption of products such as pork.  While in their native countries these foods were rarely available, they are abundant in our nation's school cafeterias.  When I anticipate such a dietary conflict, I work with the cafeteria staff to ensure that these types of foods do not end up on these students' plates.
  • Learn the Lingo: While becoming a polyglot is out of reach for most of us, I do try to learn a few key phrases in my students' languages.  For example, I learned the phrase sabah alkhyr (good morning) when welcoming refugees from Iraq several years ago.  My new Syrian students were impressed with this gesture and we are able to greet each other every morning.  Check out the omniglot website for basic greetings in several dozen languages.

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