How an App Made a Refugee Family Part of Their New Community

An elementary teacher shares how she used mobile technology to connect an Arabic-speaking father to his children’s school.

By Erin T.

Communicating with parents can be tricky, considering how busy people are these days. I teach a class of third graders math, English language arts, science, social studies, health, and art. It can be challenging to find time for even a quick phone call to a parent, let alone keeping all my students’ up to date about what we’re doing in class, and what I—and my students—might need their help with.

In the summer of 2015, a fellow teacher asked if I’d heard of the communication app Bloomz. I checked it out and liked what I saw. So many people can’t get by without their smartphones and are connected on social media, so Bloomz was easy to get parents to use. I liked that I could private-message individual parents and could also share pictures and reminders with the entire group. This year, though, Bloomz has been more than a way of communication with parents’ it has helped me welcome a refugee family to our community.

Translating for a Refugee Family

My school is mostly populated by new immigrant families, so we have a lot of English language learners in the school. Last spring, we had a Canadian government-sponsored refugee family move into our neighborhood. Four of the children were enrolled at our school in April last year, one of them in my class.

The children came to us with no English, and it has been amazing to learn alongside my student as I watch her figure out what to do. At first, she watched the other students and took her cues from them, but now, her English is developing very well and she will talk to me in full sentences. She has been a great resource in getting messages home to her parents, because they know very little English.

This is a funny story: I had been using Bloomz for more than a year, but I was unaware that it had a translation feature. One day one of my students, who is from Serbia, was saying how much her mom likes using Bloomz because she has it translate messages into Serbian for her. So I asked her a bit more about it, and that’s when I realized that the app does instant translation into more than 80 languages!

So when my student from Syria came in for parent-teacher conferences, I helped her father (through a translator) download and install Bloomz and configure the app so it translated into Arabic. I was excited that he’d be able to see the things we were doing all day and read about them in his native language. I’ve since presented what Bloomz can do at a staff meeting.

I think the ability to translate our daily updates is the start of getting this family connected to the school and the wider community. They have eight children, four of whom are still too young to enter the school system, so if they stay in our neighborhood, they will be connected to our school for a long time.

I’m hopeful that, after seeing my success with it, other teachers will also use Bloomz to communicate with their families, and it will help draw more families into their kids’ lives at school. I imagine it is difficult to come to a new country that is so different from the one you left, not speaking the language and spending lots of time feeling isolated. When we can make it happen, a connection with the school community is the first step in making this country feel like home.

Erin T. teaches third-grade math, English language arts, science, social studies, health, and art in Canada.

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