ELL teachers supported Afghan family’s children educationally, culturally, and personally

BRATTLEBORO — Over the past year, I had the privilege of serving on an Afghanistan refugee cosponsorship team composed mostly of members of three local United Church of Christ congregations. Our team supported a family of refugees, which consisted of two parents and, until a recent joyful addition, three children.

There were countless ways that our community inspired us with the welcome they extended to the family. I want to speak specifically about the area I helped facilitate — education.

Our family’s children were warmly welcomed by school representatives from the outset, and they and their parents were treated with compassion and dignity.

The English Language Learners (ELL) teachers were the first and most constant connections between the family and the schools. From the initial encounter, an intake interview, I was struck by the high degree of preparation and care these teachers showed. Deb Coombs, Jen Course, and Rachel Scarano were remarkably ready for the large influx of ELL students created by our community’s resettlement of refugees.

Despite the stress this must have caused them, they were calm, gentle, and reassuring as they discussed the previous educational background of the children, the process for enrolling them at Academy School and Brattleboro Area Middle School, and what their experience would be like there.

Once the students started going to school, the sense of a warm embrace was extended by the entire school population, from the classroom teachers who welcomed and fully included each child in instruction as well as their classroom communities, to the students who reached out and befriended them and created room signs in Dari or Pashto languages, to the administrators who extended offers of support and created spaces for the children to privately observe their noontime prayers, to the coordinators of after-school programs who eagerly included the children in their activities.

But the anchor of support — educationally, culturally, and personally — for the children continued to be their ELL teachers.

Jen, Deb, and Rachel as well as Olivia Clark and Heidi Pancake established strong, healthy, positive relationships with the children, helping them to understand academic content in a new language and creating a space in which they felt comfortable and known. The children loved their schools and looked forward to attending every day.

The family we welcomed to Brattleboro last February has recently relocated to another part of the country where the father has found a good job in his professional field.

As our work with them concludes, our team felt it was important to shine a positive light on the outstanding experience this family of refugees had in our schools.

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