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Bilingual LPS Liaison Officers help immigrant and refugee families make the transition

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – When families new to the United States travel to Nebraska, Lincoln Public Schools offers a special program to help ease that transition.

The need has grown over the years, and Wednesday’s LPS “Learning Breakfast” highlighted the people who are there for immigrant and refugee families every step of the way.

LPS said their bilingual liaisons help families from more than 150 countries who speak 130 languages.

Coordinator Oscar Rios Pohirieth said the program has played an important role in comforting families as they settle in Nebraska.

“We are the link,” Pohirieth said. “We are the cultural link not only culturally, but also linguistically. Between schools and families, whether they are immigrant or refugee students, and families in the community as a whole.

Over the past 35 years, LPS has had to reorganize how it serves families as new waves of immigrants and refugees enter the district.

In 1989, the district served less than 200 families. As of 2021, the district served approximately 2,400 immigrant or refugee families.

LPS said an important role of Liaisons is to serve as an interpreter and give students and families the tools they need to learn English.

“Students in these families are learning to speak English or gaining language skills, so we work with them directly,” Pohirieth said. “They have many needs, but the language is a big obstacle.”

The most common among English learning students are Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish and Karen.

In addition to language skills, Liaisons help connect families to resources regarding special education, student services, and trauma-informed counseling.

Bilingual Liaison Hager Mohamed said she is familiar with the challenges that adapting to a new environment can bring.

“They are here and they are still suffering from trauma; from this shock of suddenly moving, leaving, fleeing the country,” Hager said.

Since LPS serves families who speak 130 languages, there are instances where a liaison does not speak the language of the family. When this is the case, the school district relies on community centers and relocation programs to help families.

“What they want is the best for their children, so any support from the school or the staff – whether it’s in school, whether it’s after school – they really appreciate it,” said Tosh Jock, another bilingual liaison.

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