Welcome our newest blogger, Marilyn O'Day (pictured on the far left). Marilyn volunteers at InsideSchools events for newly arrived families and is entering her junior year of high school.
“We’re all nervous,” says Laura Zingmond in her introductory Zoom with me. “We’ve never hosted an event like this before.” I’m excited and inspired as she tells me about the upcoming workshop for new immigrant families.
Flash forward to The New School on July 27th at 11 am. A wave of parents enter the University Center. The atmosphere created by the volunteers and staff of InsideSchools is warm and welcoming. After introductions and check-ins we begin to learn about the families who are here. Each one has a unique, inspiring story—one was a diplomat, another fought for women’s rights in Afghanistan, and another was a school principal. The situations, like war or repressive governments, that led these families to this information session are sad and infuriating.
Despite the language barrier between Dari (Afghan form of Persian) and English, each family feels well supported thanks to the patience of the staff and volunteers. As I drift around the room, I hear Google Translate audio. There’s talk of student accomplishments back home, making a new life in New York City, and school recommendations. I can’t help but be a little awestruck by how much these newcomers have achieved despite their circumstances.
A group of volunteers from Project Rousseau, who co-hosted the event, work with the younger children on their English and math skills and talk to them about their hobbies and hopes. Others help translate or handle administrative tasks like emailing schools to ensure the students would be properly supported. Some introduce families to the InsideSchools website, which can be read in Persian via Google Translate.
After each family feels satisfied with the advice they receive, we enter the auditorium for a group information session presented by Gigi Hernandez in English alongside a parent who provides Dari interpretation. The information session dives deep into New York City public education. Parents and high school students learn everything from districts and zoned schools to testing and how to use a MetroCard. It’s clear that a lot of time and effort was put into this presentation.
After the presentation, I speak more with Lydie Raschka about what InsideSchools hopes to accomplish with these information sessions. “We want to help families navigate the largest school system in the country, as well as help students once they're in schools. We want to help the school community as a whole.”
In short, they want to be there every step of the way for all families.