Including more on U.S. Schools in General Orientation sessions
- Through the Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program, adult refugee arrivals are provided basic orientation sessions during the first 3 months after arrival. These sessions take place in group or one-on-one settings. Regular cultural orientation sessions include an introduction to the U.S. school system, school enrollment process, report cards, attendance/excuse notes, importance of learning English, discipline at home and in school, abuse/neglect of children, and safety in the community, among other general resettlement topics.
- This is the chance for the school liaison (if available) to be introduced, his/her role explained and contact information provided to the parent. This way even if arrivals don’t have school age children upon arrival, they will know who to contact at the local office.
- If you work in public schools and see ways orientation for parents could be stronger, contact your local resettlement agency to find out how you can collaborate.
Catholic Charities of Onondaga County (Syracuse, NY)
- The School Liaison has an on-going relationship with the parents and children. She interfaces with the school district, introduces the students to their new school upon enrollment and works with families around parent conferences and school activities.
- Catholic Charities holds a month-long new student academy for all students who arrived the previous month. The academy, which meets 4 days week for 2 ½ hours/session, provides an overview of what school will be like and basic education from raising your hand and school supplies to what makes a good friend.
- At the end of the academy, students receive a backpack filled with school supplies and new shoes. The academy is staffed by a Jesuit Volunteer with assistance from community volunteers and funded by the Youth Bureau, United Way and private funders.
Catholic Charities of Arlington’s Virginia Refugee Student Achievement Project (VRSAP)
- This program funded by the State of Virginia, provides refugee families both initial and ongoing services for 5 years after arrival. The services include the initial orientation, assistance with health department follow-up and school registration, links to tutoring, invitation to special events, and connecting families to necessary stabilization resources to ensure full integration into local schools and community.
- Soon after arrival, a School Liaison meets with each family individually to explain the program and assess the parents and students’ individual needs. This meeting results in an academic action plan.
Caritas of Austin, Texas
- The General Orientation ‘U.S. Education System’ session is taught by Austin Independent School District (AISD)’s Refugee Parent Liaison. This session familiarizes refugee parents with the U.S. education system (registration, attendance, school policies, reports cards, school supplies, transportation, meals, homework and available tutoring services) and their rights and responsibilities regarding their children’s education. The ‘Parenting in the U.S.’ session is taught by a Child Protective Services representative who provides parents an initial understanding of expectations of parents in the United States, healthy relationships, child discipline and what are considered appropriate forms of discipline.
- Caritas recently started offering Cultural Orientation to refugee school-aged children, partnering with AISD and Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) for this training. AISD’s Refugee Family Liaison covers grade placement, tardy/attendance, excused absences, Food Service Program, uniforms, report cards, parent-teacher conferences, confidentiality, complaints and the public school bus system. The YWCA covers Substance abuse and peer pressure.
- Caritas also has a Direct Service Volunteer (DSV) Program where volunteers are trained and paired with some refugee families to help reinforce the knowledge acquired in classes and assure a continued support for the first few months. Volunteers help newcomer parents understand the papers sent home from school, assist with homework and a lot more.
Tips for Service Providers or School Liaisons Preparing Parents for the U.S. School System
- Even though these parents’ English language skills may not be as strong as other parents, their involvement and interest in their child’s education is just as important!
- Provide the newly arrived refugee parents a thorough orientation on what the school system looks like in the U.S., focusing on the main points they need to know immediately. Follow up to reinforce cultural orientation themes.
- Be responsive to the parent through visits, phone calls or coordinating interpretation for parent/teacher conferences, so you create an environment that they can come to you any time they have a question about what their child(ren) are going through.
- Make an effort to form an ongoing relationship with the family so that when issues arise, the family trusts you. Often times, youth specifically request the school liaison’s presence when going through an issue because trust has already been built.
- Form relationships with district officials and English as New Language (ENL) teachers, as they are a tremendous support to both students, their families and you! Create a system with the school secretaries that works efficiently for both parties. Always inform the ENL teachers of new ENL students. The teachers love to meet the students and often can find student translators if needed.
- Be patient with yourself and the parents! You are serving a very vulnerable population who has many struggles ahead, but has overcome many struggles in the past.