A warm welcome and a strong foundation for immigrant students in Steamboat
Ensuring immigrant families have what they need is a community wide effort in Steamboat Springs
Brought to you by the Steamboat Springs School District
Through innovative programs and strategic partnerships with local organizations, the Steamboat Springs School District has been able to provide essential resources for students new to the community and the country. Non-native English speakers can face challenges when entering the American education system. In order to help these students succeed, collaborative, outside-the-box thinking is essential.
“We want to help our students be in a good place when they come to school,” said Brad Meeks, superintendent. “We rely on a network of support across our community to help students and their families thrive.”
As a sponsor of the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s Indivisible series, which is exploring important topics relating to the divides that exist in our community, the Steamboat Springs School District hopes to contribute to a stronger, more united community and recognize the importance of partnerships, such as the one with Integrated Community, a nonprofit that serves local immigrant families.
A shift in thinking
As the number of students for whom English is a second language has grown over the years, educators had to intentionally shift their mindsets “to ensure that students were receiving a warm welcome and a strong foundation,” said Dani Booth, the Emerging Bilingual Specialist at Steamboat Springs High School.
“We see it as a gift to be able to speak two or three languages,” said Jay Hamric, director of teaching and learning for the Steamboat Springs School District. “When a student doesn’t speak English; it’s an opportunity to grow and embrace cultures. We embrace our diversity and make an effort to understand our families and make sure they’re represented, not marginalized.”
Welcoming immigrant families
B Torres, the Interpreter/Community Liaison for the District serves as a bridge between home, school and community resources.
“I do this through interpretation and translation in Spanish and English. If a family speaks a language other than Spanish or English, I make arrangements to contract services out for their preferred language,” Torres said. “Often, if families are in need of housing, medical care, mental health care, or other resources, I refer them to Integrated Community. Their team of bilingual staff then supports them with referrals, phone calls, and paperwork to the correct agencies.”
Programs and support for immigrant families
Booth, along with colleague Tai Nass, teaches eight courses with intensive English acquisition as the focal point as part of a Newcomer Program.
“The idea is to slowly transition students from the Newcomer Program into the Emerging BIlingual Program,” she said. “Both programs allow for students to navigate their new environment with guidance and support. Some students are coming to the U.S. to escape violence, some students are coming to live with family they have never met or haven’t seen in many years, some have never used a Chromebook. And some students come with strong educational backgrounds and a good understanding of U.S. systems. Their stories are varied.”
The District brought in additional staff recently to provide extra support for emerging bilingual students in an online learning environment.
“Online learning is challenging for any student, but imagine if you have language barriers or other challenges,” Hamric said. “We’ve hired more staff for outreach and to provide support to make sure there is equity in learning as we navigate the pandemic.”
Integrated Community partners with the School District and many organizations in the community to build respectful relationships between immigrant and local neighbors and create awareness of different cultures within the community.
The collaboration between Integrated Community and the Steamboat Springs School District has resulted in the following programs and services:
- Study Friends, a youth tutoring program where local volunteers are trained and matched with students who need additional support. This program also provides academic support for early childhood students, including assistance in maintaining grade-level reading for bilingual students.
- Newcomer Program, for which Integrated Community fills in for interpretation and translation services, and provides resources, education about the American school system and support for parents.
- Adult Tutoring services for student’s parents
- Listo para Kinder is a 3-week readiness program to introduce the American school system to students and parents
- Support for school staff to ensure emerging bilingual students have what they need for distance learning.
- Integrated Community also assists with school enrolment, helping families gather all documentation to do so. Navigating the online portal and answering any questions related to school expectations
- One-on-one interpretation services for parents and teachers, which helps parents learn how to support their students at home.
“Integrated Community is just such a huge asset and gift to our school district,” Hamric said.
The Steamboat Springs Education Fund (SSEF) awarded $13,000 to Integrated Community this year, and $10,000 last year. These awards are complementary to $180,000 awarded by the SSEF to the Steamboat Springs School District for their English Language Learners (ELL) program offered in the schools, said Jenny Maxwell, the Fund’s grant commission chair.
The Education Fund, a nonprofit that distributes education funds raised through a half-cent city sales and use tax, aims to enhance academic accomplishments in Routt County and has granted more than $67 million to public education since 1993, Maxwell said.
“It is a significant obstacle to be academically successful in a new, unfamiliar culture,” Maxwell said. “Since students are often placed by their age rather than by their ability, for those who are unable to speak English it can be a challenge to keep up.”
By providing grant funding to both Integrated Community and to the Steamboat Springs School District, Maxwell said the Education Fund is invested in helping to close the achievement gap to set students up for future educational, career and life success. This year, due to sales tax revenue declines relating to COVID-19, the school district recommended prioritizing funding for reducing inequity and equipping at-risk students to be successful.
“The relationship that we have built over the years with the school district has allowed us to very quickly adjust to the current circumstances,” said Integrated Community Executive Director Nelly Navarro. “Working with schools and educators in our community to provide access and remove barriers for our immigrant families, especially young children, is more critical than ever.”
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