Austin ISD training teachers, staff on mental health resources for incoming Afghan refugees


AUSTIN (KXAN) — As more Afghan refugees flee from Taliban rule and resettle in Central Texas, Austin ISD’s Refugee Family Support Services Office will facilitate additional trainings to assist teachers in identifying mental health needs of incoming students.

The district will host two training sessions in September to educate teachers on the complexities surrounding the Afghanistan crisis, as well as how to identify trauma and facilitate mental health resources for refugee students in need. AISD will use the Gramercy Specialty Clinic, licensed mental health officials and campus counselors to assist in the district’s efforts, said Salimah Shamsuddin, AISD’s refugee family support coordinator.

How many refugee students are expected to arrive?

The total number of Afghan refugees resettling in AISD schools is yet to be determined, Shamsuddin said. Currently, there are more than 700 refugee students districtwide, with approximately 300 of those Afghan students.

AISD’s International High School will host new arrivals of high school-age Afghan students, but she added refugees will be placed throughout AISD campuses depending on where families settle within Austin. AISD does not yet have complete figures on the age range of students the district is expected to receive, adding more information is forthcoming from Refugee Services of Texas.

What resources will AISD help provide refugee families with?

Shamsuddin said AISD anticipates initial needs of families resettling in Central Texas will include locating housing, food, medical care and other essential services. AISD is working with outside agencies on rental assistance, as well as the Austin branch of Refugee Services of Texas to identify and connect families with those basic needs.

Students arriving from Afghanistan will undergo an assessment to see which grade level will be best for placement. Shamsuddin said students will also work with English as a Second Language staff members on identifying their current English skills and assisting students in the classroom to make learning environments more culturally competent.

AISD’s Refugee Family Support Services Office has three interpreters who speak more than 10 languages to assist with incoming Afghan refugees, and the interpreters will also assist families with registration and a “cultural orientation” on how school is structured in America.

Alongside ESL-certified teachers, Shamsuddin said AISD works with several outside language vendors to help amplify its multilingual staff resources.

What other Austin businesses, city departments doing to help?

Elsewhere in the city, Austin City Council unanimously approved a resolution as part of its consent agenda that “expresses Austin’s support for refugees seeking a haven from Afghanistan.” The measure also directs city staff to help facilitate any resources to assistance refugee family seeking housing and other basic necessities.

Collectively, 270 military, religious, social service and other institutions in and beyond Central Texas issued their support for incoming refugees and Austin City Council’s resolution.

“The Center for Refugee Services is pleased to support the resolution encouraging communities throughout the United States to welcome the Afghan SIV recipients and their families as well as other legally resettled Afghans that are expected to enter the United States following their evacuation from Afghanistan,” representatives from the Center for Refugee Services said in a statement.

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