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ANALYSIS By Young-chan Han

Working with Immigrant, Refugee Students and Families To Help Them Understand School Transportation Services

Faces of students in American schools have changed over the last decade. In Maryland, for ex-

ample, students hail from 182 countries and speak 179 different languages. According to the 2010 Maryland Public School Enrollment by Race/Ethnicity, white students represent 42.9 percent of the total student population, followed by African-Americans at 35.8 percent, Hispanics at 11.5 percent and Asians at 5.7 percent. In all, white students represent the minority.* Since 1997, I have had the privilege of working closely with more than 3,000 immigrants and refu-

gees who have relocated to the state. Years of direct contact and close relationships with immigrant students and families have helped me understand their challenges and needs as they learn to navi- gate the American school system. One thing is very clear: many school rules and policies, including the role of school transportation services, are foreign to these families. When new students enroll in our schools, basic information about school transportation must be shared with their parents and even their neighbors. Below are two scenarios related to school transportation that our recent refugees have encoun- tered in local elementary schools.

HOW DOES MY CHILD GET TO SCHOOL? WHAT IS SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION? When a large influx of Burmese refugees moved into two apartment complexes, the families

were told that the children in one apartment complex would be riding a school bus, but the chil- dren from the adjacent apartment would not. Te parents did not understand why services could not be provided to both apartment complexes, especially since the majority of young children lived in the apartment that did not receive transportation. With the help of an interpreter, the parents were informed that the distance from the school to the homes determined the eligibility of school bus service. One apartment was exactly one mile from the school, while the adjacent apartment was slightly less than a mile away and therefore did not receive school bus service.

❝ When new students enroll in our schools,

basic information about school transportation must be shared with their parents and even their neighbors. ❞

Before coming to the United States, these families lived in a country with a hot climate, so the

cold, winter weather and their unfamiliarity with the neighborhood concerned the parents whose children were not bus riders. One family member who had a driver’s license and a van volunteered to drive the children. One day, the school staff noticed that a van would come through the bus drop-off area and drop

off 30 children. Te students were double- and triple-seated, and some even sat on the floor of the van. Tis alarmed the school staff. With the help of an interpreter, the principal explained the law regarding passenger capacity and seat belt use. As a result, the family member ran three trips every morning in order to drop off all 30 children. A different parent who had recently acquired a driver’s

38 School Transportation News Magazine April 2011

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