With hundreds of refugee families arriving each month in AISD, Austin Voices is providing basic needs, as well as helping parents support the educational needs of their children. We work closely with AISD’s Refugee Family Support staff, as well as local campus and community groups.
Welcoming Refugee Families at Hart Elementary
One of the priority areas in Hart’s Community School plan, developed during the 2015-16 school year, is to become a more welcoming place for refugee families. While Hart has had a number of refugee families over the years, that number has doubled over the past two years. This year started with a Hart Newcomer Back to School Night. Over 60 refugee and asylee students and families were welcomed to Hart and introduced to the school culture and routines. Topics included attendance, testing, immunizations and other information from the School Handbook. On October 6th, 10 recently arrived families gathered for coffee with the parent support specialist. A guest speaker from AISD Food Services shared with parents about the contents of student meals, and took their considerations back to the district.
A 4th grade ESL instructor, Ms. Isadora Day, worked with Ali Ghilarducci from Austin Voices to develop a PLC (Professional Learning Community) for Refugee and Recent Arrival Support to help families and teachers working in multicultural classrooms. Hart Elementary ESL teachers have up to 7 native languages spoken in their classroom. Many of their students have had interrupted formal education and limited exposure to the English language or literacy development in their native languages. In response to this challenge, Ms. Day is working with her colleagues and partners from within and outside the District to come up with creative ways to support her students and families. Hart is now one of two pilot schools connected with Amaanah, a non-profit Refugee Services organization based out of Houston and newly expa
ding to Austin. Amaanah provides one-on-one classroom tutors at Hart and hopes to expand their supports in the future.
The Fall wrapped up with a Multicultural Thanksgiving on December 5th, pairing over 20 Murchison Middle School students from 9 different cultural backgrounds (assisted by ESL teachers from Murchison) with 3rd-5th grader refugee and recent arrival students at Hart. The students shared foods representative of their cultures, and the Murchison students shared videos they had made about themselves. In January, Murchison and Hart students will be working on an orientation video for new families at Hart. This is just the first step in an ongoing partnership between Murchison and Hart to support refugee students!
The Austin Voices Family Resource Centers at Dobie Middle School and Burnet Middle School also sponsored welcome and resource events for refugee families.
Serving Refugee Families at the Burnet Family Resource Center
A note from one of our social workers:
“As a social worker who recently began working with AVEY, it has been a blessing this semester to witness and participate in the Community Schools Initiative. To have the capacity to meet such a vast array of needs is invaluable when it comes to working with the families that are experiencing them. One case that demonstrates the impact of the Burnet FRC is that of a family that recently arrived from a country experiencing extreme hyperinflation, food shortage, and civil unrest. I began working with the parents of this family with the goal of helping them find financial assistance to address instability in their housing . Over time, I learned of more and more needs across multiple life domains that were impacting their functioning at home, work, and school. We were able to address something different every week until the parents’ faces began to change from a look of defeat to that of safety and security. They got help with food, clothes, furniture, counseling, and employment, in addition to rental and utility assistance. Soon their financial situation was less burdensome, their basic needs were being met, and their ability to adjust to a new country had improved significantly. Cases such as this one make me feel honored to work with a team that is competent at reaching their main objective, which is removing some of the obstacles that families in this community face every day.”