With Schools’ Help, Hartford, CT to Accept Syrian Families


Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has announced that Syrian refugees are welcome in the state upon arrival into the United States, despite recent terror attacks.  This policy was made possible with the help of a school district who offered to help integrate the children of an estimated 80 families into the public school system.

“It’s just consistent with our values of equity and access and we wanted to say ‘This is what we do here. This is what we stand for. We stand ready to welcome you,’ ” Hartford Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez told The Seventy-Four.

Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Beth-Schiavino-Narvaez created a committee at the end of November to “coordinate assistance for Syrian refugee families to enroll their children in Hartford Public Schools.”  The committee was made up of public school staff and members of the Catholic Charities of Hartford who volunteered to help refugee families assimilate, including English language acquisition specialists and people who specialize in support services.

The committee is currently looking into finding answers to questions such as whether more bilingual teachers are needed in public schools and whether refugee children might be better placed in schools with higher Muslim populations, writes Nicole Gorman for Education World.  State law currently requires bilingual education be offered at any school with 20 or more students whose native language is not English.

Additional students could also cause an issue with busing plans for the district, which currently serves around 21,000 students.  Hartford Public Schools’ managers are currently seeking extra money to support this and other needs that could arise.

According to Catholic Charities, 17 Syrian families have arrived in Hartford in the last two years.  A representative from the charity who speaks their native language picks families up at the airport and takes them to a furnished apartment and gives them a stipend for rent and basic needs that covers 180 days.

A case manager helps families learn to navigate Hartford, from grocery shopping to finding a doctor and the right school for their children.  Hartford is a choice district and offers magnet schools with specialized curriculum, including STEM and the performing arts.  This school year 31% of the student population in the city was black, 52% Hispanic, 11% white, and 6% were defined as other.

The school district’s welcome center is often the first stop for refugee families, featuring an office with books and toys and a computer station for parents.  Foreign students are required to take a 20-minute written and spoken English exam while there, after which a placement officer works with families to find the right school fit.

In addition, a $105,000 grant was given by the State Department of Education to be used to hire a translator and tutor for Burmese refugee students at Bulkeley High School, writes Naomi Nix for The Seventy-Four.

Despite this welcoming attitude, the majority of the country feels differently.  A poll for ABC News discovered that 54% of Americans are against accepting Syrian refugees who are entering the country after the November 13th terrorist attack on Paris, with 52% saying they do not feel government authorities will be able to properly screen for and keep out possible terrorists.