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Lifelong Learning

Spud Staff Bridge the Gap for English Learner Families

October 13, 2020

Almost 600 or 7.2 percent of students in the Moorhead Area Public School District are enrolled in English Learner (EL) Programs. Our students and families multilingualism adds to the beauty of Moorhead Area Public Schools. As a District, it is our goal and intention to honor the culture and language of each student. In an effort to provide access and success with school curriculum, parent liaisons can help bridge cultural barriers including language. 

Ahmed Issa is an EL parent liaison for English learners, with an emphasis on supporting Somali speaking families. He was born in Somalia and grew up in one of the largest refugee camps in Kenya. He has a passion for helping and connecting with people. 

The impacts our parent liaisons and translation staff have is evident. Ahmed remembers a specific family in need of help. “I had only been on the job for about two weeks, when a father reached out to me concerned about his daughter who was currently enrolled at Moorhead High School,” Ahmed says. This family had immigrated to the U.S. two years prior. His daughter was skipping classes and staying out late, many of the same characteristics the father had seen in his older daughter before she dropped out of high school and ran away. “The father told me, ‘I can’t lose another daughter, Ahmed.’” 

Ahmed scheduled a home visit to talk with the father, daughter and the rest of the family. Through listening and many conversations he found ways to help the family communicate. He worked directly with the daughter to adjust her class schedule. He also facilitated the family to reconnect with their missing daughter. 

Now, two years later Ahmed is talking with the same family. The oldest daughter reached out to discuss re-enrolling in school. “I told her, forget about what happened; the past is gone. Look towards your future now.”

Connecting with Families

Vian Mustafa is an EL Liaison with an emphasis on Arabic and Kurdish speaking families. “It’s so important to have trust in communication. I enjoy communicating what is available for families and students, so they understand the school system,” she says. Vian works with families through phone calls, home visits and making in-depth translated videos. “When I help families figure out the information it makes me happy. I want to minimize linguistic barriers and advocate for our families.”

Hilda Cervantes is a social worker at Dorothy Dodds Elementary. She helps translate for Spanish speaking families. “I was once an EL student and know first-hand what some families might be experiencing; new culture and education system,” Hilda says. "Through my work, I enjoy building relationships with families and seeing students grow academically and socially."

Our Liaisons are on the move. “I am typically running from one school to another checking in with students on a daily basis,” Ahmed says. The team works hard to capture accurate phone numbers for families and communicates with families through their normal routines. For example, Ahmed has been hanging up posters and sharing information with families through the Mosque.

For a number of years, New American parents nights have been held for parents and teachers to connect over cultural activities. Last year at S.G.Reinertsen Elementary, for example, parents joined together and brought cultural food, and teachers who attended had an opportunity to ask questions and learn from families. Parent nights have been very successful. They are educational and teachers gather a lot of new cultural information.

In addition to the many liaisons and translators, there is also an Indian Education Program to meet the needs of the Native American students attending Moorhead Area Public Schools. Dedicated family liaisons help the students with enrollment, home visits, tutoring, cultural activities and much more.

The translation services, cultural sensitivity training, home visits and personal calls make a huge difference in connecting our families with the School District. Equity is important to educational excellence and fulfilling our mission of helping all students thrive in a changing world. 

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