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Groups organize to envision immigrant-friendly schools

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

JUNTOS and SEAMAAC, two organizations that work with local immigrant communities, recently concluded a seven-session workshop series informing parents about their educational rights and advocacy strategies for better schools.

Two dozen families, mostly immigrants from Indonesia and Mexico, participated. They discussed topics such as teacher quality, multicultural classroom practices, and school violence. The workshop series culminated with a sharing of ideas about what an immigrant-friendly school would look like.

Workshop presenters included speakers from the School District, Philadelphia Student Union, and Teacher Action Group.

“These parents are happy to learn. They’re hungry for knowledge,” said SEAMAAC community organizer Yohanes Sulistiyono, who coordinated the sessions with Zac Steele from JUNTOS.

At the final meeting, parents broke into small groups to develop their vision for immigrant-friendly schools and shared recommendations such as increasing the number of ESOL teachers, prioritizing issues of diversity, and offering language support for all families.

Between now and next spring, workshop participants will develop community surveys to learn more about the issues affecting immigrant students, visit two model immigrant-friendly schools, and host a forum to share their visions with principals and District staff.

District staff worked with the organizing groups to help their campaign move forward.

“[District officials] have to come and work with you because, after all, we work for you,” said Ludy Soderman, the District’s director of multilingual family support.

Workshop participant Mirna Ramirez, a mother of two Southwark Elementary students, said that despite language barriers or race, all students deserve an equal education. “We all have possibilities for success in life if we have the opportunity,” she said.

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