Giving Compass' Take:

• Koby Levin shares how the Hamtramck school district is reaching out to immigrant families in their primary language to ensure that the language barrier isn't preventing students from attending online learning.

• What role can funders play in building and supporting programs like this one?  

• Learn more about how the digital divide hurts U.S. immigrant families

Aysha Shamin has a long list of calls to make. With just a week to go before classes are set to begin in Hamtramck Public Schools, Shamin and other district parents are once again calling dozens of families to make sure they were all set for remote learning.

Speaking in Bengali, Shamin asks families if they have the technology they need to access online courses, and if they want to send their children to a physical classroom twice a week for extra help. Other parents call to ask the same questions in Arabic and Bosnian.

As many Michigan children return to online classes this fall, educators warn that online instruction — already challenging for most students — will be especially damaging for students who don’t speak English. In theory, this would be terrible news for the Hamtramck school district: 64% of the district’s students are classified as English learners, while another 14% are former English learners who have learned enough to leave the program.

Instead, Hamtramck’s pre-pandemic support systems for immigrant families have ensured that students don’t fall through the cracks. A team of bilingual parent liaisons, hired two years ago to support newcomers from other countries, worked through the summer to ensure that families had access to food, laptops, and an internet connection. An in-person orientation held weeks before the first day of online classes helped hundreds of U.S. newcomers navigate the challenges of remote instruction.

“I don’t think we had any family” whose students didn’t attend class because of a language barrier, Shamin said. “We’re still calling. We give them our number. If they need anything, they can call us any time.”

Advocates worry that English learners will be especially hard hit by the pandemic because their families are often vulnerable in several ways. They are more likely to have low incomes, face food insecurity, and avoid seeking help due to their immigration status. They’re also less likely to have access to a computer.

Read the full article about keeping English learners from falling through the cracks by Koby Levin at Chalkbeat.