More than 100 families entered the Meriden Public School District in Connecticut last year from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Consequently, Mariah Abatan and Marjorie Eager quickly became more than teachers at Hanover Elementary — they became a lifeline for displaced, confused and scared English Language Learners (fifty percent of whom also presented with speech and language impairments and learning disabilities). Scrambling for strategies to best help these children, they discovered a U.S. News and World Report ranking of “The Best Countries to Be an Immigrant” with Sweden at the top of the list. That’s where they find themselves today, World Refugee Day 2018, on their FFT fellowship.
“We are committed and passionate to empower and inspire our students to dream and achieve their dreams by becoming resilient, lifelong learners despite the challenges they are facing,” wrote the teachers in their grant proposal. “This is a difficult task due to our limited understanding and knowledge of educating immigrant students, lack of resources and minimal training from the district.”
They crafted a fellowship to bridge that gap and are debriefing with educators at two Swedish schools where refugee students first register, as well as participating in a conference at Stockholm University titled “Exploring Language Education: Global and Local Perspectives.”
“We are inspired by the resilience, kindness and courage of the immigrant and refugee families we have met – both here in Sweden and our classroom in the US,” said Mariah. “It is encouraging to witness united voices of a community committed to helping and empowering each other in the midst of traumatic, life-altering events. We urge you to take advantage of the opportunity to make a positive impact in your community by supporting immigrant and refuge families.”
Watch this video of 2017 FFT Fellows’ journey documenting the refugee crisis in Western Europe and the student impact that followed.
“We want our students to feel and know that they are important and helpful to others, as well
as they can add value to their lives by learning from others,” added Marjorie. “In order to have a better community, we have to build tolerance, trust, empathy, and mutual understanding. It is essential/critical to us, that students value their background history and understand the richest of their contributions and contributions of their peers in Sweden.”
Educating refugee and immigrant students is a growing trend in Fund for Teachers fellowships. This summer, five teachers are pursuing this topic in various and unique ways, including:
- Alissa Davis (Hopkins School – New Haven, CT) who is retrace the steps of Longfellow’s heroine, Evangeline, from Nova Scotia to New Orleans to Philadelphia and producing maps and a lesson plan that revives a forgotten tale of refugees and provides students with an intimate exposure to this deeply relevant issue;
- Amber Neal (Almeda Elementary – Houston, TX) who is experiencing Tanzania’s history, language, culture and educational climate to deepen understanding of African refugee students and develop learning experiences that enhance global awareness, celebrate cultural differences and enrich classroom discourse;
- Anne Tomalin (Chapel Hill High School – Chapel Hill, NC) who is joining the University of North Carolina’s World View China Study Visit Program for educators, to observe China’s educational practices and spark ideas for more effectively supporting the school’s Asian refugee students;
- A team from Julia de Burgos Elementary in Phildelphia that will explore the homelands of students, 86% of whom identify as first or second generation immigrants from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, to implement a rigorous, culturally relevant program for the student
- Anya Wislocki (International High School for Health Sciences – Elhurst, NY) who will research work of environmental activists in Bolivia and Peru while strengthening Spanish language skills to prepare newly arrived immigrant students for college study in the sciences; and,
- Maribeth Dann and Phil Landolt (Hermann Middle School – Hermann, MO) who are blogging as they explore Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, to create learning focusing on modern immigration to America and inform seventh graders’ projects on why people leave their homelands.
“We know that we would have been able to teach our immigration unit without this opportunity, but we know we will do a much better job after this experience,” said Maribeth. “Through many of the poignant experiences we had in Vietnam and Cambodia we can empathize with why a family would feel the need to uproot their entire life in search of a life that does not include war and oppression. It is a decision that we in the States are very lucky that we do not need to make.”