How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? by Theresa Souchet
Submitted by Theresa Souchet, DeWitt ENL Teacher.
This week, as a result of the devastation from Hurricane Maria, our school received two students from Puerto Rico. As a relatively new staff member at DeWitt, I was deeply impressed and humbled by the action taken by my colleagues to welcome these students.
Before the students even arrived for their first day, I was in communication with our registrar (that evening, after school hours!) to set up a meeting with the family. On the day of their interview, the school counselor came to my room to inquire about how she might offer support. What tests did they need? Should she do her best with her Spanish-speaking skills to interview the family? The school nurse inquired about their status in terms of physical exams and vaccines and later ensured they could get them at low or no cost. The same day, our family liaison asked about how we might welcome them in our afterschool program and provide academic support in their native language. Could we have another student in their afterschool class who spoke the language? Could a request be made for a TA that spoke the native language? Also that same day, without even asking, one of our Special Education department leaders rearranged a Spanish-speaking aide’s schedule to provide support for the two periods they would not be in co-taught classes. She later followed up to confirm whether this would support the students’ needs best. Was the aide needed at another time? Is there more that could be done?
When the students arrived the first day, our ENL TA took the students on a private tour of the building, explained their schedules, and took them to the library where they were warmly welcomed by our librarian and Spanish-speaking assistant. They also visited the cafeteria where they were welcomed with smiles, taught the procedures for securing daily lunch, and offered free ice cream. In each and every classroom I attended with the students, teachers acknowledged and welcomed them, some by having each student introduce themselves, others by having the newcomers introduce themselves. Teachers sat students near others who spoke the same language and many teachers mustered up whatever Spanish they knew to express their happiness at their arrival.
DeWitt Middle School has a long history of welcoming international students, so perhaps it should be not surprising that such efforts come as second nature to the staff, administration, and faculty. But, it is still noteworthy and makes me proud to be a part of this community. How do you solve a problem like Maria? Well, be opening your arms, of course!