By Julie Baughman, The Baltimore Sun Media Group
6:00 AM EDT, October 18, 2013
More than 35 people gathered in the library at Halethorpe Elementary Thursday to participate in a pseudo back-to-school night event for parents and family members of the school’s Burmese student population
“The Burmese students are a refugee population,” said English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher Janet Chao. “Our ESOL population is 116 students right now.”
Burma native Sauwin Mading interpreted for the Halethorpe staff, bridging the language gap that often challenges the parents. An interpreter was also present for the one Spanish-speaking family in attendence.
Principal Jill Carter walked the parents through the school handbook and, after Chao spoke about the county’s ESOL program, parents watched a video about volunteer opportunities at the school.
“I learned that the school system is like my family,” said 27-year-old Ta Twe, whose 5-year-old son Albert Oo is in kindergarten at Halethorpe.
“I’m very glad to learn about that, because now I want to support the school because they are my family,” she said.
Most of the families are housed along Alan Drive in Arbutus after being placed there through the International Refugee Center.
The school sponsors the event each year to inform parents of school procedures and community resources they might not otherwise know.
“We want them to feel welcome at the school,” Chao said. “We have to teach them about the American school system.
“Things like what should the children wear to school, what’s appropriate,” she said, citing that most of the Burmese parents don’t realize students must wear tennis shoes to participate in physical education programs.
“We go over things the nurse needs, we go over school items like homework,” Chao said. “To me I think they realize they have a support base now.
“There’s a lot of things that we can help them with,” she said. “So to me that’s also part of the community effort just so that they have a base to go to.”
“It’s kind of like a home base for helping them,” Chao said.