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  • From the Editorial Board:Refugees and Inclusive School Practices in the Face of Intolerance
  • Torrie K. Edwards

Schools are important places for social and emotional healing for young people who have undergone severe trauma (McBrien, 2005). One such group of young people are refugee students. With approximately 60,000 child refugees entering American public schools this year and poor guidance from the district, state, or federal level, there are considerable concerns for student refugee health and well-being (Amario, 2016; Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, 2017). How can our schools provide social and emotional healing for young refugees, many of whom have suffered severe trauma?

Unfortunately, the current American political environment is especially unwelcoming to refugees. Conservative leadership's calls for "extreme vetting" and "revised screening measures" (FoxNews, 2017), reinforces narratives of terror and fear and fuels the pervasive misunderstanding of the rigorous, seven-step and years-long screening process refugees must undergo to be granted asylum in the United States (Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, 2017). Similarly, President Trump's proposed travel ban that targets Muslim-majority Arab countries (CNN Politics, 2017) and his continued assault on undocumented people living in the United States (Shear, 2017), indicate his hostility toward immigrants and refugees, as well as people from historically marginalized and underserved communities (Baer, 2016; Covert, 2016; Semuels, 2016). As schools operate within the larger political context, the national mood is of interest to scholars of education who seek to understand the experiences of refugee students and their teachers. How might educators and education researchers disrupt the negative rhetoric and threat surrounding refugees to create safe, warm school communities for students who have faced severe trauma?

Recent research has studied how teachers' and counselors' practices can assist refugee students in acclimating to a new environment through inclusive education (McBrien, 2005; Taylor & Sidhu, 2011) which assists refugee students in adjusting to their new homes by developing language and communication skills, provides psychological services for addressing past trauma, and encourages welcoming and supportive behaviors from the whole school community. At its core, inclusive education is democratic education, as all students are equally important members of the school community, and later contributors to an American democracy. This orientation of care is grounded not in individual development and importance, but in the relational successes of groups of people (Noddings, 2002). Inclusive education aims to foster connections across difference, creating networks of care in schools. Specifically, practitioners can foster classrooms enriched by student voice and characterized by care and tolerance; they can create a place where students can share their stories, experiences, and realities to resist the singular misrepresentation of refugees (Allman, 2016). [End Page 223] Regrettably, the democratic and caring tendencies characteristic of inclusive practices are antithetical to much of our current political discourse that presents refugees as a single group of people who come from uncivilized and dangerous cultures, and therefore cannot adapt to Western or American values. Instead inclusive education practices acknowledge the humanity of refugees as well as their unique and diverse attributes, and nurture a supportive school community to help these young people overcome the trauma of flight and the prejudice they encounter from pockets of American society. For these practices to work, there must be widespread adoption of them; that is, teachers, districts, state policymakers, and federal policymakers must share this vision of inclusive education, and each advocate for refugee students in the ways they are empowered to by their positions.

There are numerous examples of successful teacher and district level collaborations designed to support refugee students. For example, The Highline School District in Washington mandates a three-part professional development session for staff on how to best serve refugee students, including learning about the resettlement process and hearing first-hand experiences from refugee students and parents (Rozier, 2017). Within this model, teachers encourage students to share these stories in their classrooms, lending them agency in a space in which they might otherwise feel uncomfortable. Teachers can also use these stories to help update curriculum, either or both adapting teaching methods or content. Seattle Public Schools is another district that has seen success in its use of inclusive education practices. This district has received federal grant...


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