Somalis and Burundians

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 22, 2008 1 min read
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Remember the media circus surrounding Lewiston, Maine, where in 2002, then-Mayor Larry Raymond sent a letter asking Somalis to stop moving to the town because it didn’t have a social service infrastructure that could adequately meet their needs? An article in the September American School Board Journal brings us up to date with how educators in Lewiston public schools worked before and after that infamous letter to help Somalis integrate into the community. Today, Lewiston has nearly 3,500 Somalis among its 36,000 residents. At one elementary school featured in the article, the Somalis receive math and English in separate classes and attend regular classes for their other subjects. I think it’s worth paying attention to how Lewiston is educating Somali students, in part, because of the following bit of information from the article:

The U.S. Department of Justice monitored the district’s ELL program for five years to ensure that language instruction was provided to the Somalis under the federal Equal Opportunities Act. The district passed its review last year with flying colors—no small feat during a time when its community was changing so rapidly.

The article about Lewiston is one of three articles in the journal’s current issue about how schools are serving English-language learners.

More recently, a number of school districts across the country have received students from Burundi as part of a resettlement of thousands of refugees from that country who have lived since 1972 in Tanzanian refugee camps (see the Burundian backgrounder put out by the Center for Applied Linguistics). Upon their arrival at an elementary school in Knoxville, Tenn., five Burundians, who had little formal schooling, were taught for a year in a separate classroom before being transferred to regular classrooms this school year. “School Helps Refugees Transition,” published Aug. 20 in the Knoxville News Sentinel, tells the story (hat tip to TESOL in the News).

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.