Howard school system opens arms to aid Burmese refugees

The Baltimore Sun

When more than a dozen Burmese families showed up this summer to register for school, Howard County officials discovered a new group of people in need of assistance.

School system officials began to meet with interpreters, the International Rescue Committee and members of Grace Community Church to plan an outreach session that was held Friday at Bollman Bridge Elementary School and nearby Patuxent Valley Middle School in Jessup.

At the session, the families were given clothes for winter and were told of resources available in the community.

"Realizing how little they understood about culture and life, we planned this so that they would feel connected," said Young-chan Han, a specialist with the system's International Student and Family Outreach Office.

Han said she expected 45 to 55 Burmese to attend the event.

Burma, officially renamed Myanmar, has recently been in the news because of clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and the military forces that rule the country.

Many of the Burmese who have settled in Howard County had spent time in refugee camps, Han said. That experience has created unique challenges for the school system.

First, the system has had to find interpreters fluent in Burmese and Chin. Many Burmese parents speak Burmese, while many of their children speak Chin because they were raised in refugee camps in Malaysia. The Malaysian government has recently been releasing refugees, which has resulted in the latest migration to the United States, said Han.

"We realize that they are in a cultural survival level," she said, noting that most Burmese families in Howard County have only summer clothing. "We wanted to meet their immediate needs."

For Friday's event, Han recruited a nurse to talk about health services, and members of FIRN, a private nonprofit group that assists recent immigrants to Howard County.

"I'm just amazed that all of these community service providers are saying how much they want to help and be a part of this," Han said. "The community is really rallying around so that these families feel a part of the community."

The Burmese outreach is another example of the growing foreign-born population in Howard County.

During the first week of school, Howard County officials registered students from 350 families who came here from other countries and have limited English skills. That number is up 60 from last year and up 150 from the year before.

Next year, Han wants to host outreach events for the system's growing Nigerian and Vietnamese populations.

"It's no longer [only] Korean and Hispanics," she said in reference to the two larger foreign-born populations in the school system. The latest influx of foreign-born students "is making our community feel very global."

Four out for a day

Four middle school students were excluded from a day of school last week after failing to prove that they received state-required immunizations.

The students - who attend different schools - provided officials with proof of the immunizations the next day and were allowed to return to class, according to Donna Heller, coordinator of health services for Howard County schools.

"We have very minimal amounts [of students without proof of the required vaccines]," Heller said. "They were excluded for one day and then they returned. They either went to their own physician or to the Health Department."

The immunization requirements stem from 2005 legislation that requires students to receive hepatitis B and chickenpox vaccines.

Students in Howard and surrounding school systems are faring much better with compliance this year.

Last school year in Howard, dozens of students were barred from class because they did not have proof of the immunizations.

16 scholars

Sixteen Glenelg Country School students were recently named Maryland Distinguished Scholars.

Two seniors, Emma Murphy and Kelsey Haist, were selected as achievement finalists. Both are eligible for an annual $3,000 scholarship to a Maryland college or university.

Achievement finalists have either a 4.00 unweighted grade point average and SATs or PSATs of 2170 or higher, or SATs or PSATs of 2260 or higher and a grade point average of 3.85 or higher.

Alexandra Hittman was named a semifinalist.

Semifinalists are placed on an alternates list and might be offered a scholarship not used by a finalist.

Honorable mention went to Daniel Bath, John Walterhoefer, Maya Munoz, Kristin Meegan, David Gold, William Garrett, Matthew Feldhaus, Ryan Featherman, Suzanne DeVoe, Harrison Chau, Shreyo Banerjee, Kelson McAuliffe and Pauline Lombardo.

More than 5,000 students applied for the distinction this year.

Finalists and semifinalists were invited to Distinguished Scholar Recognition Day at Loyola College this month.

Learning issues

Dr. Larry B. Silver, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University, will lead a presentation tomorrow titled "Social and Emotional Problems Often Seen With Individuals with Learning Disabilities."

The 90-minute presentation is to start at 7:30 p.m. and will be held at Reservoir High School.

Silver, author of The Misunderstood Child: A Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities, will talk about people with learning disabilities and their relation to neurologically based disorders such as attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder, anxiety disorders, anger-control problems, obsessive-compulsive disorder, tic disorders and bipolar disorder.

The event is being sponsored by the Howard County public schools, the Howard County chapter of Learning Disabilities Association of America and the Individual Differences in Learning Association.

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