N.H. Schools Will Train On How To Better Serve Children Of Immigrant Families

Jan 9, 2018

Credit Casey McDermott / NHPR

Bhagirath Khatiwada is the new Cultural and Linguistic Competence Coordinator for the New Hampshire Department of Education. That means he's in charge of helping school leadership and teachers engage all students in the classroom, including children of immigrant parents.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Khatiwada, who himself immigrated to New Hampshire in 2008 from Bhutan.

I wonder if you could give us a picture of what's happening now for a student that might be coming in who, you know, English is a second language, and there's that language barrier. And they are trying to kind of navigate their way. It's all new to them. What's that like for them today, and what do you hope to change?

So when we look at this scenario, a new student coming to the class, and teacher is not sure what to do. So my suggestion is immerse to the culture of the student. Learn what challenges the child has, social [and] emotional challenges, cultural challenges. What is the child going through? And tried to see from your perspective, how do you best serve the needs of that particular student? I know it is challenging, but it is doable. If a teacher is more connected to the student, the more the teacher will know about the child. And the outcome would be always better if the relationship between [the] teacher and the student is stronger.

I'm wondering about how teachers go about doing that. Obviously teachers are very busy during the school year, and there's a lot of students. What can you provide for those teachers to help them do that? I mean I imagine not only involving knowing the student, but understand the student's situation.

So from our office and my current role, I will be facilitating a bridge between a teacher and a student. If they are struggling to integrate, my role would be to see how I can help [the] teacher and the student find a common ground where they can excel.

So this is really bringing more people the resources to there.

Exactly.

What's your particular background?

I, myself, came to America as a refugee in 2008, and had been involved in cultural and linguistic aspects for this many years. Before coming to the Department of Education, I was working in a nonprofit that was offering post resettlement services to refugees, immigrants and low income families. Many times I visited schools, talked to the teachers and counselors.

So you have obviously a special insight. Where do you begin?

The present classrooms, when you look at the national level, they are all diverse and increasingly going to be diverse. And in New Hampshire, when you look at it, 12 percent of our students are from the minority communities. And in recent years, that population has grown, and the white population in the meantime is decreasing by 12.8 percent. So this data indicates that the services that we offer need to be culturally and linguistically appropriate, so that we will have a greater outcome from the students.

What are the challenges specifically that you are seeing in those school systems that maybe can't meet the needs of some of the students that are coming in yet?

They need to understand more about the diverse needs and the population of the students that they serve.

And so how do you facilitate that?

So, we'll will be offering CLAS standards training, cultural and linguistic competence training to the schools, and leadership and teachers.

Now this is relatively new. I know you're just coming into this, and this is new for New Hampshire. What have you been hearing so far? What is the feedback you're getting from schools around the state?

They are excited obviously, and many of the schools, they need the services that we can offer. And I feel that it is more important now because of the growing diversity in the schools, and also to be compliant with the federal laws that require language access and language assistance.

I imagine the language is such a barrier when you get into a school system that traditionally hasn't had to worry about that very often. Maybe they haven't had an immigrant population before, and as more are coming into the school system teachers and faculty, you know that's a real barrier.

Yeah, it is. And when we look at the national data, approximately 50 percent of our students are non-white. And over 80 percent of the teachers' workforce are from the mainstream population. So there is a disconnect, and we need to find ways to address the gap so that we will have the anticipated outcome.