Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed, assistant principal of Deering High School in Portland, took time on a recent busy Friday afternoon to share some thoughts he believes could be helpful for readers of this paper – particularly those who are immigrant parents originally from countries with school systems that are very different from ours here in Maine.
Originally from Somalia, Dr. Ahmed did doctoral research focused on the involvement of refugee parents in the U.S. school system, and he has a special interest in the education of immigrant children. He notes that education is important in determining the trajectory of lives and that, in the U.S. school system, parental involvement in a child’s education is key. The chance of a student’s breaking out of a cycle of poverty is greatly improved by parental involvement in a child’s education.
Dr. Ahmed notes that, in many countries, school and home life are seen as two very separate spheres. Parents are expected to take care of children at home, while teachers and administrators are in charge at school. In these countries, the general attitude toward school is “No news is good news!” Often there are no such things as parent open houses, parent-teacher meetings, chaperoning on field trips, monitoring academic progress via computer grading systems, college information nights, and the like.
Newcomers to Maine don’t automatically understand that here parents are expected to be very involved in their children’s schools, Dr. Ahmed says. “Here parents should attend events, make sure homework is done, and advocate for the needs of their children with teachers, administrators, and the school board.” He particularly stresses the importance of parent oversight when it comes to school attendance.
He says that parents need to make sure their children, particularly high school students, are regularly attending school. If a robocall comes in from the school notifying the parent of a child’s unexcused absence, the parent should contact the school. He advises parents not to accept the child’s assurances that it is fine if he/she was not in school. Maine has laws about school attendance; children are required to be in school unless they are excused by a parent. Furthermore, academic success closely correlates with school attendance. If communication is a problem because of English fluency, a parent can request a translator. In Portland, the Multilingual and Multicultural Center can provide a communication specialist in the language of the parent. Dr. Ahmed emphasizes that the bottom line is that a call should not be ignored.
Dr. Ahmed’s overall message for readers is that it is important for parents to find out how the school system works in Maine so they can help their children succeed in the United States. Parents should not assume the system is the same as in their countries of origin; in fact, most likely it is different in very fundamental ways.