Deputy principal Set Rooke grapples with tough questions: How can his high school in Malmo and other schools serve some of the 175,000 migrants who arrived in Sweden last year alone? How do they deal with a teacher shortage?
Rooke spent the past few days in the Twin Cities in search of answers.
He was part of a group of 10 Western European principals and other administrators who came to learn how local educators help refugee and other immigrant students settle in. The U.S. State Department is funding the pilot project, on the heels of the historic influx of migrants that has overwhelmed some schools in Europe.
The visitors toured schools with some of the most diverse student populations and traded insights — about overcoming language barriers, engaging parents and learning to see students’ strengths alongside their challenges.
“Why invent the wheel if the United States perhaps has already done it?” said Rooke, whose school serves students speaking 63 languages at home.
Twenty administrators from Sweden, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom spent several days meeting with officials in Washington, D.C. Then, they split in two groups, one bound for Denver and the other for Minneapolis. In this national refugee resettlement hub, the Minnesota group happened to share an airport elevator ride with a family just arrived from a camp in Kenya.
They toured schools such as LEAP High School in St. Paul, launched more than two decades ago to serve recent arrivals. They met with state and local education officials, who acknowledged Minnesota doesn’t have all the answers. They spoke with representatives from nonprofits that strive to steer immigrant students to college, such as Minneapolis-based Navigate.
In a Monday panel discussion, administrators from Hopkins, St. Paul, Maplewood and North St. Paul shared strategies: pairing subject matter teachers with English learner teachers, peers who serve as “buddies” for new students, and lessons that draw on the experiences of newcomers.
The European visitors spoke about their efforts to integrate new arrivals, from trying to shift educator attitudes in Germany to starting a “Teach Your Former Language” project in London.
“Even though they are all from European countries, they have very, very different approaches to how they deal with refugee and immigrant students,” said Marina Aleixo, a University of Minnesota administrator who facilitated the project.
Rooke, the Swedish principal, noted his country has taken in what, in per-capita terms, would be the equivalent of almost 6 million refugees arriving in the United States in a single year. He was especially interested in how local schools do outreach to refugee and immigrant communities. He also picked up on an attitude difference he hopes to address upon his return.
“It’s the professional belief that success is possible,” he said. “Schools here are seeing students as assets and not as difficulties.”
On Tuesday, the Minneapolis group headed back to Washington, D.C., where they will compare notes with colleagues who went to Denver. The State Department is planning a follow-up workshop in France in January, co-sponsored by the French government.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to continue the conversation,” said Aleixo.