NEWBURYPORT – Newburyport Public Schools on Thursday welcomed its first Afghan family to the district with help from community members.

The family of nine, which includes seven children aged 6 to 17, arrived in Newburyport last month and were among thousands of people evacuated when the US military pulled out of Afghanistan in August.

They stayed in a converted temporary living space at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church as part of the church’s partnership with the New England International Institute.

A family of 10 with eight children aged 3 to 19 was also due to arrive at the High Street Church last week. The First Religious Society, Unitarian Universalist Church is expected to welcome a family of 11 this week, including five daughters and four sons aged 3 to 19.

Newburyport’s public schools, as well as districts across the state, are preparing to welcome Afghan refugees.

Deputy Superintendent LisaMarie Ippolito said that as soon as the district learned that the first Afghan family was coming, the city’s Human Rights Commission reached out to make sure the district had the resources it had. need.

The neighborhood welcomed parents for a visit, so they could visit schools and register their children. A Dari interpreter provided translation throughout the meeting.

Among those present at the meeting were Lauren McDonald, district health and nursing director, who discussed possible medical needs; Timothy Potts, District Behavioral Health Coordinator, who explained how district counselors could support these students through the stages of trauma; Pam Kealey, district food manager, who checked the food requirements; and Chrissa Pissios, District English Learning Coordinator, who spoke about the overall transition in the district.

“Our aim was to put parents at ease, and the feedback we have received from the Human Rights Commission is that we have done an outstanding job,” Ippolito said.

One of the best moments came at the end of one of the school building tours when the mother lowered her mask just so she could show school officials a big smile, the deputy superintendent added.

Pettengill House donated backpacks and school supplies to each of the children.

On Thursday, the district hired two Dari interpreters to spend the day with the children to make sure they “understand the terrain, but also so that their needs are met,” Ippolito said.

For translation assistance in the future, each student has an iPad with a translation app downloaded on it. With any learning English, however, the goal is to start learning English right away, she explained.

The English language learning department also has picture cards that they use with listed words in English, Portuguese, and Dari.

Ippolito noted that the students were already learning new words on the first day, such as “hello” and “goodbye”.

Everyone took the time to express how happy and excited they were to be there, she said, noting that there had even been a few attempts at singing.

“It’s encouraging,” said Ippolito.

The district recently hired another English learning teacher, so there are now five between schools. The district already had a part-time family liaison, but an additional teaching assistant was also hired.

Across the district, there are around 60-65 students who are considered learners of English.

Upon entering schools, students take a WIDA test, which is an assessment of their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.

Students are then placed into groups based on their age and WIDA level.

Ippolito said she was impressed with the investment of teachers and district staff in making sure they are ready to help these Afghan families.

Representatives from the New American Association of Massachusetts, a Lynn-based agency that works with refugees and immigrants, gave a presentation to staff at each school. During this presentation, one of the Dari interpreters spoke about what it means to be a refugee.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Ippolito said. “Because you think you know, but until you hear it directly from someone who has been directly affected, it feels like a whole different thing.”

The district can also connect with other schools in the state to set up video chats with other Afghan refugees. The goal is to create not only a welcoming environment in Newburyport, but a sense of community for refugees across the state, said Ippolito.

Journalist Heather Alterisio can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.