Making immigrant students feel welcome
Every year the Margaret and Gilbert Herrera International Welcome Center helps thousands of immigrant families navigate the enrollment process for their children who are new to the U.S. education system.
National Immigrants Day is celebrated on Oct. 28 to honor the diversity and culture that immigrants bring to their communities, and the welcome center is usually the first stop for many of these immigrant families who want their children—born here or in other countries—to have all the opportunities an education offers. This year, the center’s team members have already helped register 3,500 students of all ages, above the average for this time of year.
“Walking families through the process and verifying all the paperwork can sometimes be a lot for individual campuses to handle while doing the work for the students that are already enrolled,” said Amanda Clymer, Bilingual/ESL Department director over the welcome center. “A lot of our families struggle with the paperwork, registering online. At the center, we verify all the forms, help them upload them, and we do language proficiency testing to determine what services the students will need once they start attending school.”
Because most families come to the welcome center during the summer before school starts, the center—which consists of a manager, testers and two other team members—gets help from the rest of the Bilingual/ESL Department.
“We implemented Family Fridays when the week’s appointments are filled up, we have walk-ins, and the entire department helps out because we can process about 100 students a day,” Clymer said. “We get families from everywhere! They come from Plano, Garland and other places because they’ve heard we help here. We call those districts and find out where they can go to get help there.”
Currently, the center is processing 35 to 50 students a day. While the majority of the welcome center families come from Mexico, they have seen a growth from other countries, such as Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Cuba, Jamaica and others.
The center’s and the department’s work doesn’t stop once the students are enrolled. They often follow up with families who were processed through the center or families call them, said Adriana Lopez, center manager.
“They call us back and tell us if they are having issues once they are at the school, and we work with the campus to help them resolve it,” she said. The entire department also works with teachers throughout the year to help them understand and apply instructional supports for emerging bilingual students and newcomers through professional development sessions and one-on-one support when possible.
“We help them understand the unique needs of these students so they can thrive,” Clymer said. “We help all teachers be teachers of language.”
Beyond enrolling students new to the U.S. education system, the welcome center functions as the first introduction to Dallas ISD for many families. It is a place where they can share their stories, find the help they need and ensure their children have what they need to go out into the world, Clymer said.
“We are the first experience these families have with Dallas ISD, and we want that experience to be positive,” Clymer said. “We want them to want to be here and part of our district.”