Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Community Members, Educators Help Students from Afghanistan Adapt to Life in Las Cruces

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees have left their homes behind for a chance at safety. With well over 200 refugees in Las Cruces alone, the transition has been anything but easy.

dr Syed Rafique Ahmed of the Southern New Mexico Islamic Center has been helping the refugees adjust to life in New Mexico and has also been vital in helping educate the younger Afghans.

“They feel pain, they feel emotions. They have the same basic needs as every other human being. They want respect, they want their own dignity, they want to live in peace.”

dr Ahmed says that there are many challenges facing the refugees.

“Many of them are from different educational backgrounds and many of them do not speak English so helping them train in English is a challenge. Even if you want to have classes for them it’s difficult because they do not have a transport.”

dr Rajaa Shindi has been working closely to help educate the young refugees as well as aiding the parents in the transition.

“The class that we opened here at the center for women youth and children and girls we wanted to focus on them so it is not just english. They can talk and feel more connected and comfortable.”

Along with starting their own classes, the Islamic center, a local mosque has been working very closely with Las Cruces Public Schools to help in the education of the children at the public schools.

“The teacher, the teacher hired to support them is an ESL teacher and they go to their classrooms and they do a one on one. That’s probably the most successful approach,” said Dr. Shindi.

One of these English Language teachers is Ashton Forrest. She has been working with some of the Afghan children at University Hills Elementary School and has seen the children grow and adapt to their new environment. This however did not happen overnight.

“I mainly just wanted them to feel comfortable. I got one of them before the other so I told the rest of the class that we were getting them and showed them how far away Afghanistan was just so they could understand the immense their change is going to be,” said Forrest.

Ashton Forrest is a 4th grade ELL (English Language Learner) teacher at University Hills Elementary School in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Academics is just one example of what children learn in school. Learning how to interact with other children, play and communicate are also vital skills to master in elementary school.

John Hufstedler is the assistant principal at University Hills Elementary School. This elementary school is one of the most diverse in the district, hosting children from all over the world thanks to its proximity to New Mexico State University.

“Language is a barrier, but play is play,” said Hufstedler.

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Elementary students learn how to play, be creative, and interact with the world through the safety of their school.

Hufstedler said that the students have found ways to get around language barriers.

“We have found that soccer is pretty universal so they are making friends and the friends that they are making are helping them know when to go where and when they need to go to lunch and what the procedure for lunch is and how to transition to different specialist classes.”

However, the refugees are not limited to just one school. With over sixty students across the district ranging from early elementary to upper high school, many of the challenges that these kids face have been dealt with at the district level through the Las Cruces Public Schools Bilingual Education and Community Outreach Department.

“We have found services to provide on demand translations we have found some resources in Dari and Pashto that can help us with students and families understanding what we are showing and help develop their English,” said Aine Garcia-Post, LCPS Executive Director of Bilingual Education.

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University Hills Elementary School has a long history of educating students from all backgrounds, hosting students from Congo, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

As the students and families adapt in Las Cruces, one thing has been made very clear. Without the support of volunteer groups, resettlement agencies, and the community, this transition may have been much more challenging.

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