YORKTOWN, N.Y. — Teachers are trained to teach, but you cannot teach a child who is hungry or a child who has nowhere to sleep that night.
You cannot teach a child who has suffered trauma and not been treated for it. Those children must have their needs addressed before they can learn.
That was one of the takeaways from a Nov. 21 meeting of English language teachers, school social workers and school counselors at the Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES. The meeting was one in a series of gatherings aimed at creating a formal network or center to address the needs of young immigrants in the region.
Carola Bracco, chief executive officer of Neighbors Link, a not-for-profit agency that supports the healthy integration of immigrants, spoke to the group about ways schools can help immigrant children succeed. Bracco previously addressed school district leaders and principals and assistant principals at other forums at BOCES.
Teachers were urged to get to know immigrant children and their families by asking questions about their families and lives outside of school. In getting to know the families, teachers may discover practical challenges that affect a child’s ability to learn.
For example, if many members of a family are living in a small space, there may not be a quiet place for a child to do homework or study. If a family has been displaced from their home, a child may not be able to concentrate on school. A child who has experienced trauma in his or her journey to the United States may need help dealing with the trauma before being ready to learn.
“We’ve found that we have to help with crises in their lives,” Bracco said. “Parents aren’t going to make it to parent-teacher meetings if they are worried about losing their apartment.”
Bracco said it was important for teachers to familiarize themselves with resources in the community that are available to immigrants. Groups like Neighbors Link, Catholic Charities and pro-bono legal services can help immigrants deal with the challenges they face, Bracco said.
Creating a formal hub or center to address the needs of recent immigrants was the brainchild of Tarrytown Superintendent Christopher Clouet, Ossining Superintendent Ray Sanchez and Bedford Superintendent Jere Hochman, all of whom serve immigrant communities in their school districts. BOCES is serving as the gathering place and clearinghouse for resources and best practices that can be shared by districts across the region.
“School districts, teachers, administrators, students and community groups need to come together to address these issues,” said Neil Boyle, coordinator of the Guidance and Child Study Center at BOCES, which is overseeing the sharing of information. “Progress won’t be made by just one discipline, we need everyone’s expertise looking at it from different perspectives.”
Joan Colsey, an ESL teacher in Yorktown, said: “I’m excited by this effort. The whole community approach is what we need. There’s been great communication between the schools and community.”
Cheryl Starace, an ESL teacher in Pound Ridge Elementary School in the Bedford School District, said: “We need to reach the kids and families if we are going to change society. Immigrant families and students are valuable. They bring their rich cultures to our region. It would be great if they could learn from us, and we could learn from them.”
Adrienne Viscardi, director of ESOL programs in Bedford, praised BOCES for “creating a wonderful opportunity for school districts to network and share resources to address this critical need.”
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