Afghan refugees fitting right in with FW school districts

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — During a press conference on Wednesday, Catholic Charities announced 60 Afghan refugees have been resettled in Fort Wayne to date.

A handful of those individuals are also settling into Fort Wayne area schools.

“Really, it’s not a new concept,” said Jennifer Mabee, the Title III Director for East Allen County Schools (EACS). “We have almost 40 different languages within the district that are spoken. So, most of our buildings are familiar with that. We’re just adding one more, you know, avenue or aspect to it.”

According to Mabee, EACS has two Afghan refugees enrolled in the district so far. A spokesperson for Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) said it has added five, and the transition has been “fairly standard.”

Both districts place the students in a regular classroom and assign them an instructor to help the students learn English.

“They are integrated into a typical classroom just like any other students,” said Krista Stockman.

Mabee explained that at EACS, traditionally a representative with Catholic Charities or a caseworker will bring students in. Under state guidelines, the students are screened within 10 days of enrollment to see where they fall academically and language-wise.

The district will then create a plan tailored to each student’s individual needs. Some options to support a student include pairing students with an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher or working with a paraprofessional to help improve their understanding of English or connecting with peers.

“So, very similar to you know, anything else, its going to take some time,” said Mabee. “Statistically we know if they are not fluent in English, it can take five to seven years to become fluent in an academic study and so we’re going to walk right alongside of them, you know, giving them that support.”

While both districts are used to welcoming refugee students, Mabee said the biggest challenge is learning about the cultural differences. This also pertains to parents who typically have no experience with sending students to a school in the United States.

For example, knowing what a school bus stop is, what two-hour delays and and what an e-learning day is are all new experiences.

“There’s a lot of things that we can’t assume [parents know],” said Mabee. “So we oftentimes do a home visit with the parents and the family and kind of give them a packet… we have a list of things that we’ve talked to them about and work through just so that they have an understanding and information they need to be a good parent, in terms of a United States parent, and what’s expected from the school systems.”

To help refugee students with any trauma they may have experienced over the last several months, EACS also provides Social Emotional Learning Coaches and counselors.

Mabee said EACS doesn’t expect to enroll more than 10 Afghan refugees into the district. That is based on information the district has received from Catholic Charities.

“If we were to get more than that, we would certainly welcome that and we would be happy to do that,” said Mabee. “But with right now with our communities, as Catholic Charities mentioned, we don’t want to over commit to to a point where we can provide good services and guest services… So, we just want to know so that we can plan and prepare.”

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