As we piled in the van, I could tell they were excited. Their eager eyes and smiles were a big give-away. We were on our way to go to school! Well, technically, we were on our way to be enrolled in school. For both parents and kids this is an exciting day. Kids are happy to meet other children and parents are incredibly grateful that their children will get an education; something that was denied to them when they were children because of violence, discrimination, and war.
One of the responsibilities of the caseworkers at the Center for New Americans is to help newly-arrived families connect with the school district to enroll their children in school. This morning we were taking 2 families to the Elementary Immersion Center at Jane Addams Elementary. Once we arrived and the kids found out that today was going to be mostly paper work, their excitement waned a bit but the parents remained happy.
Enrollment begins in a small room with a teacher and interpreter. Basic information is gathered, like names, birthdates and birth places, native languages and prior schooling. Many times this information comes along with stories like, “I do not know her birthdate. She was born after we fled the village in Congo, as we walked to Kenya. It was spring time in 2003…” and “He went to Grade 2 but only 4 months. There was not many food and he must look for food with his brothers.”
Then the teacher discusses placement. Parents are surprised to learn that grade level here is based on the child’s age and not their school experience. One mother was very concerned that her son would attend high school. “Secondary School? He’s not ready. He will be behind. What if he meets the bad crowd?” It took a few assurances before she believed that her son would be with great teachers who will help him succeed.
After a few more questions, it was time to look around the school. For the younger kids, they were able to even visit their classroom. We walked down the colorful hall way and into a 2nd grade classroom. Their teacher greeted them warmly and asked their names. They were shy but I could see they were happy with their hidden smiles. The teacher also introduced another child from her class that spoke the same language. She asked him to help the new kids when they start school next week. They were very happy to meet someone they could speak with. Finally as we turned to leave, their mother, who up to this point was just taking everything in, turned to the teachers, shook their hands and said in her best English, “Thank you!” It was a proud moment for her being able to see this dream come true for her children.
Post by Kristyne Walth