KALAMAZOO, Mich. — West Michigan agencies including Kalamazoo Public Schools were lending a helping hand to dozens of Afghan refugees who were starting new in the United States.
For weeks, Kalamazoo County welcomed new families into the community as well as in the classroom.
"We have welcome centers set up at both Lincoln International Studies School and Millwood Middle School in Kalamazoo," Geoff Howe, the Director of School Improvement at Kalamazoo Public Schools, said. "We are doing whatever we can to provide these students with the resources they need to make sure content is accessible and they can learn."
Howe said welcoming the students was an exciting step for the district as they prepared for up to 130 families.
"Between partnerships with Bethany Christian and Samaritas, we can help 130 families and those families are already arriving in Kalamazoo," he said. "Whether a six-year-old is going to come to us or a 13-year-old is going to come to us, obviously those kids have very different needs when they come to KPS, so we want to do our best to make sure that they have everything they need to be successful.”
Wessam Abdelaziz the English as a Second Language Director for Kalamazoo Public Schools said the district currently had three refugee families in the district, but that more students were on their way.
"We decided to do this sheltered classroom to shelter them when they come to make sure that they are not just thrown in class," Abdelaziz said. "This way, they are actually prepared before they go to the mainstream classrooms.”
“The concept is the idea of the whole child, right? We're not just trying to support academically, we're trying to also support their social-emotional and the trauma that they went through," Abdelaziz said.
Both Howe and Abdelaziz said despite the state facing a severe teacher shortage, especially following COVID-19, Kalamazoo Public Schools was not going to let that impact teaching new students.
"It is so exciting for these new students," Abdelaziz said. "We get them set up with new school supplies, all the physical health checks they might need, an outfit for the first day of school, and a packed lunch with snacks for at home."
Incoming refugee students will be partnered with an ESL tutor who speaks their native language, along with a student in their grade level who can help the new student learn and adjust.
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