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AISD welcomes Afghan students and families relocating to Austin

AISD is welcoming Afghan students and families through its Refugee Family Support Services Office. (Bob Daemmrich)

In light of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, Austin ISD announced the district is welcoming newly-arrived Afghan refugee students and their families on Wednesday.

AISD said the district's Refugee Family Support Services Office has been serving refugees and asylum seekers for years, providing resources and a language hub. Refugee Family Support Coordinator Salimah Shamsuddin discussed welcoming efforts at 10 a.m. Thursday.

The district doesn't yet know how many new Afghan students it will receive, as the numbers with Refugee Services of Texas change constantly. However, Shamshuddin said one of the district's points of pride is its diversity: There are over 700 refugee students that attend an AISD school, of which 300 are Afghan.

"Our district's cultural and linguistic diversity is a strength with students from all around the world and over 100 different languages spoken by our families," Shamshuddin said. "We appreciate the warm welcome and the show of support for our refugee families in the Austin Community."

Refugee Family Support Coordinator Salimah Shamsuddin discussed welcoming efforts for Afghan refugee students at 10 a.m. Thursday. (Laura Figi/Austonia)

The office offers day-to-day interpretation services in 19 languages—including Afghanistan's two most common languages Pashto and Dari—tutoring, social or emotional support and holds campus events targeted at refugee families.

Shamshuddin said when families arrive, the office has interpreters to help parents get their children registered for school in their native language, provides cultural orientation for parents and students to show what school in America looks like, and works closely with students and English-as-a-Second-Language teachers to help them integrate.

"We train teachers and do a lot of professional development about how to make your classroom more culturally competent and relevant, how to make it more inclusive—something as simple as adding a map in the background, and asking students, 'Hey, where are you from? Why don't you pin the country that you're from,' that can make the classroom inclusive," Shamshuddin said.

Shamshuddin said these resources are an important part of helping students and families integrate. In September, AISD will hold two training sessions for teachers focusing on cultural competency and emotional awareness of refugees.

"Providing that support, making sure that parents know what's going on in the classroom by informing them in their home language, I think that is really important," Shamshuddin said. "A lot of people forget that they're coming here from a different country, a different culture."

New refugees are being welcomed citywide—Austin City Council is expected to approve a resolution and direct the city manager to coordinate with local, state and federal entities in welcoming refugees, some of whom have already arrived, today.

Austin is preparing to resettle at least 185 Afghan refugees by the end of September, almost more than any other city in the state. Each of the incoming refugees has received a Special Immigrant Visa, and has undergone background and health checks.

This story was updated at 12 p.m. to include information after the meeting.


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