Many newcomers feel alienated from their US peers, teachers and the larger educational community. We’d like to help you take some first steps to guide your school toward building welcoming communities.
You may not have the time or resources to do all of these things by yourself, but consider how to get other students, parents, and administrators involved in the effort.
Build welcoming communities in the classroom
- Have snacks ready that will appeal to students from many different backgrounds, such as mangoes, rice crisps, chocolate, and tea.
- On a world map, highlight or pin the countries from which all students in the class originate.
- Have students share information about their country’s history, cultural traditions, myths, music, holidays, etc. If students feel uncomfortable presenting, you can do this in smaller ways. For example:
- Students can share a favorite song to showcase different music and learn about instruments from that country.
- Encourage students to bring foods from their native country to potlucks.
- If the student’s language is taught in your school, you can ask them if they would like to be a teacher’s assistant.
- Have the class research animals from different parts of the world – let your refugee and immigrant students speak about animals that may be different from those native to the US
Build welcoming communities in schools
- At the beginning of the school year, identify students who can serve as buddies or peer mentors to help newcomer students navigate your school. You may even consider training a few students before you ever need them—learning about the world and mentoring are positive skills that will help the students build welcoming communities throughout their lives.
- Ask your school librarian to acquire books that represent the cultures and backgrounds of your students.
- Have posters and images representing the background of refugee students and cultural symbols from refugee countries.
- Have posters of any general school information translated to languages of refugee families.
- Create special spaces and time allotments for newcomer students in your school.
Build welcoming communities in your town
- Organize cultural celebrations at the school such as fashion shows or music nights.
- Involve food and the sharing of food as much as possible.
- Have students complete oral history projects with community members from their own ethnic background or another ethnic background. Students may be able to download apps on their phones to record these stories.
Even with all our efforts to build welcoming communities, undocumented immigrants, their families and communities are on edge. ICE raids have scared many families into hiding – and that means the children often do not get sent to school. When children of potential deportees do arrive in the classroom, they bring with them a whole host of fears and insecurities that tend to undermine their learning. Classroom teachers are often the first to step up and make sure students’ basic needs are being met.
Resources from the Refugee Center Online
- Safe Zones translation – the National Education Association has implemented a “Safe Zones” resolution. The declaration offers a step-by-step guide for enforcement. You can access the Safe Zones declaration translated into Spanish, Arabic and French on our Educating Refugee & Immigrant Students homepage. Schools are encouraged to post the document in several immigrant languages in their office or hallways.
- Rapid Response Plan translation – Teachers can create a rapid response plan with their immigrant families. Use this document to ensure that families have all of their affairs in order, prior to an emergency. This is a great resource to help immigrant families empower themselves and is translated into Spanish, Arabic, French and Swahili on our website.
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