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Best Practices in Creating a Welcoming Environment for Refugee and Immigrant Students

The B.I.A.S. Project (Building Immigrant Awareness and Support) of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights is collecting “best practice” ideas teachers have used in working with immigrant and refugee students.  Listed below are some ideas we have collected from Minnesota educators.  If you would like to share your ideas, please send them to us at the address below.


Before the Immigrant or Refugee Student Arrives:  Creating a Welcoming School Climate:

  • Teach staff and students how to say “hello” in the new students’ native languages.
  • Have a member of the immigrant community work with the school in preparation of the arrival of the new students.
  • Have mainstream students learn about refugees and why they are forced to migrate.  Role-play how they would feel as refugees.
  • Find out resources, interpreters, and materials on cultural diversity and have a seminar for staff on in-coming students’ home countries, explaining the land, history and social aspects.  Emphasize also to students how important it is to learn about the world—as an extension of social studies class.
  • Prepare school staff for student arrival including possible changes in cafeteria food menu.
  • Clarify special clothes for girls (i.e. shador or head covering) for Physical Education classes.
  • Display pictures, maps, and information about immigrant students’ home countries in a central location of the school to educate the student body about newcomers.

Immigrant and Refugee Students in the Classroom:  Strengthening One-on-One Interaction:

  • Teach lessons about the home countries of immigrant students.  Even if the new student doesn’t understand everything, s/he should be comforted to see students learning about things that s/he recognizes.  Students’ parents could be involved in the planning and presentation.
  • Have students draw maps of their home countries, adding pictures and cities.  Have them show the class (or rotating partners if a large group is too intimidating) and tell them they can bring in items that represent their cultures to explain and share with the class.
  • Use lots of visual aids.
  • Use good nonverbal communication skills.
  • Be genuine, sincere, and friendly.
  • Introduce newcomer students into the school mainstream slowly.
  • Develop a buddy system, matching new students with current students to show them around for the first week.

Involving Immigrant Families and Communities in School Life:

  • Do short video in native language of incoming students showing the school, sports, parent-teacher conferences, etc.  This video can be viewed at school or at home.
  • Offer parents “coffee time” as parents drop kids off in the morning.
  • Have parents of immigrant students volunteer in the classroom to become more familiar with what goes on during the day.  Could use job skill from home country (i.e. art teacher)
  • Work with parents to help them learn how to “get involved” in the schools without being too intimidating (i.e. parent-teacher conferences, volunteer opportunities, etc.