AUSTIN (KXAN) — Officials from the Austin Independent School District said they’ve been alerted by federal officials to expect to welcome Ukrainian children into their schools soon.
AISD said the notice came from the United States refugee admissions program, but the district isn’t sure how many kids may soon be attending or when.
“We are eager to welcome refugees to our schools and provide them quality education, support and make sure families feel inclusive by being able to inform and guide them in their home language,” said Eduardo Villa, an AISD spokesperson.
He also said AISD’s translation office has contacted vendors about hiring Russian and Ukrainian translators.
AISD also said the McCallum High School band director is already starting the process of ordering music to teach her students how to play the Ukrainian national anthem.
Refugee Services of Texas said they’re expecting 3,000 to 5,000 people from Ukraine across the state.
“A lot of those will go to Austin,” said Ashley Faye, RST senior development director.
She said they’re ramping up volunteers, donations and outreach events in anticipation of those refugees, though they have not yet heard from national partners about a timeline.
She said they’re also expecting more Afghan refugees, having already settled 922 in Central Texas.
“So far this fiscal year, which started in October for us, we’ve already resettled more individuals than we have for the past three years combined,” Faye said.
Faye said they team up with local school districts to help families resettle, like helping with an Afghan newcomer celebration on Thursday with Round Rock Independent School District.
“Allowing them to see that we are here to serve them and welcome them,” explained Nancy Guerrero, Area Superintendent for Cedar Ridge Learning Community in RRISD.
The event included one of 17-year-old Azhar Ullah Wahidi’s favorite foods: Pizza.
“My favorite food is pizza and chicken wings,” he said.
But in his 45 days in Round Rock so far, perhaps what he values the most, is school.
“I am very happy… going [to] school, school is very good for children, for me,” he said.
Guerrero said the event was also an opportunity to register students who may not be, yet.
RRISD said they have about 40 students from Afghanistan. Principal April Nilson has 19 of them at Berkman Elementary.
“It’s been really important for us to understand their cultural norms,” Nilson said. “And so I’ve provided my staff with a lot of training in that.”
She and her staff have also established a schedule for those students that allows them to connect with each other and their peers in a comfortable way, like starting the day off with smaller groups learning vocabulary words and songs.
Guerrero said social workers have been helping address trauma and connecting families to city services.
The district is even considering adding a new bus route to accommodate their Afghan newcomers.
Guerrero said RST has also been a partner in staff training and translating services. They’re also utilizing contract translators, volunteers, and software that connects them to interpreters virtually and on-demand.
“If I needed to contact the parent throughout the day, I’m able to do that through a translation program,” Nilson explained. “So I am very easily able to just connect on demand to someone who speaks multiple different languages– specifically Pashto, and then I’m able to contact the parents immediately.”
Nilson and Guerrero expect even more Afghan students, as well as Ukrainian ones, and are ready to expand their welcoming process for them.
“If we needed to contract someone to come in and serve as a translator, we’re already tooled and prepared to do that as well,” Guerrero said.
Thousands of people have offered up their homes to Ukrainian refugees through a website built by two Harvard students called, “Ukraine Take Shelter.”