Haywood Elementary, Community Achieves work hard to make Refugees feel at home

Haywood Elementary, Community Achieves work hard to make Refugees feel at home
Posted on 08/20/2020
Haywood Elementary, Community Achieves work hard to make Refugees feel at home

With an approach focused on meeting students and parents where they are – both figuratively and literally – Haywood Elementary School and its Community Achieves program have won high praise for their work with refugee families.

The South Nashville school, with students and families representing 30 countries, has worked hard to connect families with the wraparound services they need to overcome a lack of familiarity with formal education and reduce learning gaps, said Atlee Tyree, the Community Achieves site manager at Haywood.

Organizations that work closely with refugees are taking notice.

“We're working with families throughout the district, and I can confirm that Haywood Elementary has done an exceptional job of supporting their diverse population,” Jennifer Escue, Youth and Elders Program Coordinator for Catholic Charities of Tennessee, recently wrote on Facebook. “They should be a model for other schools right now.”

“This is such a challenging time, but y'all have really gone above and beyond to take care of your most vulnerable families,” Escue wrote in a follow-up message to Tyree.

Tyree said Haywood's refugee families, most of whom have resettled here from Southeast Asia and Central Africa, bring a wide range of life experiences with them, and teachers and other staff members are sensitive to their circumstances and needs.

“It's so much more of an emotional approach rather than a strategic approach,” she said. “We're coming at it with this mindset of treating every parent with dignity.”

Haywood and Community Achieves also have made a point of going to families' homes for check-ins and to deliver supplies when necessary, because “it's important for families to see school staff in their home communities,” Tyree said.

And when it's not possible to go into homes, there are still ways to connect.

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The week before school started, staff set out on the Haywood Yaywood Parade, driving by every child's house and through every apartment complex to wave to students on their porches and balconies.

On the evening of August 18, as MNPS started its third week of virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Haywood hosted Honk & Holler, a chance for families to drive through, say hello to their teachers, and pick up books and supplies.

“It's just a really good opportunity to connect with our families,” Dr. Damon Cathey, Haywood's new executive principal, said during the event. “We've really tried to be heavy on communication in this (virtual) space, because we know there are questions and there are uncertainties.”

The school also works closely with Catholic Charities, Nashville World Outreach Partnership, Nashville International Center for Empowerment, and other organizations to stay connected to refugee families.

Alison McArthur, director of Community Achieves for MNPS, said refugees deeply appreciate the opportunity to get an education – and educators appreciate their passion.

“Their families have sacrificed a lot to be here for an education,” McArthur said. “As a teacher, oh my goodness, you just eat that up.”