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Schools nationwide are preparing to welcome more refugees

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Posted at 1:14 PM, Nov 05, 2021

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — With a growing number of students from across the country coming from immigrant families, many schools are having to shift the way they welcome and educate children in an effort to be more inclusive.

Principal Matt Buchanan oversees Somerville High School in Somerville, Massachusetts, a school with a population as unique and diverse as its architecture.

"Because this school is so diverse, all of our kids are benefitting from having support," Buchanan said.

This year alone, there are more than 200 students here who come from immigrant families, many of whom speak English as a second language. It's part of the reason why this school, like others across the country, has had to expand its support systems. The concept is called an ELM community, a backward acronym short for multi-lingual education.

Students have a special part of the building where they can go for support. Guidance counselors help these high schoolers with everything from understanding schedules to communicating with parents at home in a student’s native language.

"I mean everything is new, so it can be overwhelming and it’s why we try to intentionally support kids coming here," explained Emily Blitz who helps run the program.

What Blitz has seen over the years is that if new students from other countries don’t feel welcomed, they simply won’t show up for school.

"If there are too many barriers, it gets harder and harder to stay with it," she said.

The whole program is addressing nationwide populations trends. There are more than 17.8 million students in the U.S. right now who come from immigrant families and census data shows that number only continues to grow, especially with the influx of refugees from Afghanistan. As of mid-October, about 40% of the more than 50,000 Afghan refugees processed at U.S. military bases were children. Many will soon be headed to schools across the nation.

"You never know who is coming tomorrow and our job is to be ready for it," Blitz said.

At Somerville High School, they're ready to accept students from Afghanistan and many other countries in the next few months. With support systems already in place, the hope is that any high schoolers who come there will have a seamless transition.

"In the small and big ways, the feelings of being small, being rejected, being marginalized are always there. To go to school and have a place where you can go and feel seen and heard, it makes all the difference for students," Blitz said.