Monday, March 15, 2010

Refugee resettlement and the schools

While giving a presentation on Friday in Rochester to some great teachers, there were many questions that emerged about what really works for refugee resettlement. For me, I have to advocate that we need to move beyond 'The Welcome' and that such efforts need to be holistic and ecological.

'The Welcome' is nice, but effective resettlement and support can't stop there.

Real school engagement is not just about setting aside one special day or encouraging really exotic-looking show and tell moments. It's not something that should be done just by a small body of the ELL or multicultural student services staff, but it's a process that needs to be a commitment from the whole school, from teachers to administrators, librarians and even cafeteria staff.

There's some amazing things that are possible. As many others have pointed out, refugees spending time in America often give back more than they borrow over the years. But at the same time, as we look at the experiences in South Philadelphia, where over 50 Asian students were attacked in the high school this year or the case of Lori Phanichone in Storm Lake, Iowa, we can see there are many complex dimensions to creating a vibrant and effective environment for our students.

No one community is going to have all of the answers, but if a community doesn't try to find answers it can live with, the results tend to be disastrous.

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