Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed, assistant principal of Deering High School in Portland, recently took time to share some tips for immigrant parents who want to help their children succeed in Maine schools. He also shared a few suggestions for teachers of immigrant students. He notes that school systems in other countries are often very different from those here in Maine, and that parent involvement in schooling is expected in this country.
To teachers, Dr. Ahmed says, “Open your doors. Start the communication – seek parents out. Encourage their involvement and ask them how they’d like to communicate.” He 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. Parents who are new to Maine may well be new to all these features of school life. They probably will need lots of support getting used to the system.
Dr. Ahmed stresses the importance of parents making sure their high school-age children are regularly attending school. He says that many students have figured out how to block calls from the school on their parents’ phones. This means that if automated calls – robo calls – come from the school to notify the parent of a child’s unexcused absence, the parent will not receive the call if the student has blocked it. He advises parents to occasionally check in with the school’s administrators and teachers to find out if their child is attending school regularly, doing homework, and thriving. He suggests that parents should not accept the child’s assurances that not attending school is fine. Maine has laws about school attendance, and children are required to be in school unless they are excused by a parent.
Schools in Maine have social workers whose job it is to help students who need support, Dr. Ahmed says. He encourages parents to contact the social worker at their children’s schools if they have any concerns at all about how their children are doing. He urges parents not to wait until a major problem has developed, but to reach out right away. Social workers are there to talk with parents and help them meet their children’s needs. If communication is a problem because of language barriers, a parent can request a translator. Dr. Ahmed emphasizes that the bottom line is that parents should seek help if they need it. “Here parents are expected to be very involved in their children’s schools,” he says. “Parents should attend events, make sure homework is done, and advocate for the needs of their children with teachers, administrators, social workers, and the school board.”
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 succeeding in school and going on to college is greatly improved by parental involvement in a child’s education.
“It takes a village,” he says. “Let’s work together to raise great adults. Your kids are our tomorrow. Enjoy them, work with them, nourish them.”