In California, home to the largest number of Afghan refugees in the country, school officials are preparing for an influx of students who fled Afghanistan with their families after the Taliban seized power in the country last month.
Schools are especially busy in Sacramento and Fremont, which have two of the largest Afghan communities in the state. Over 40% of the nation’s Afghan refugees have resettled in the Sacramento region in recent years, according to Jessie Tientcheu, chief executive officer of Opening Doors, a resettlement agency based in Sacramento.
Elk Grove Unified School District began offering culturally appropriate meals and setting aside rooms in many of its middle and high schools for prayer during Muslim holidays in preparation for the additional Afghan students it expects in the next month. San Juan Unified is offering Saturday school for English learners, and Fremont Unified is planning to hire more translators.
Sacramento school officials have been meeting weekly with representatives from resettlement agencies to prepare for the students. Resettlement agencies partner with the federal government to ensure refugees have food, clothing and housing, as well as medical and mental health services, among other things, for 90 days after their arrival in a city. After that, school districts often take on the role of liaison between the family and social service organizations, offering translators and guidance.
“We connect with them when their 90 days are over,” said Cristina Burkhart, program specialist with the refugee team at San Juan Unified. “We help them in any way we can. We help them make doctor appointments, or translate for them so they can build that capacity and advocate for themselves.”