HOUISTON (KTRK) -- The Houston Independent School District is working in conjunction with the Arab American Cultural and Community Center to recruit Arabic-speaking volunteers.
Right now, there are 754 children in HISD whose first language is Arabic. Many are refugees from Iraq, Egypt and Syria, whose families fled violence and ongoing conflict.
Zahrah Al Hasan, 9, is one of HISD's English Language Learner, or ELL, students. After moving here with her family last year with the help of the United Nations, she has learned to speak and read in English, and looks forward to starting 3rd grade.
"We get to do homework and then lunch time will come," she eagerly said, while showing us one of her school projects done last year on Princess Diana.
While Amaanah Refugee Services helped the Al Hasan family settle into their new life in Southwest Houston with basic necessities, the children are left relying mostly on their school teachers for help with homework. Zahrah's father spoke to me in a shared-language, Farsi, telling me life in Syria was dangerous and unpredictable.
"For the refugee children who come from conflict areas, schooling may have been limited or interrupted," said HISD Multilingual Specialist Lee Glaesemann. "They're going to need that additional support really to be successful academically."
HISD already has programs in place for bilingual and multi-lingual students. But, with the influx of Arabic speaking students from Iraq, Egypt and Syria -- the district has partnered with the Arab American Culture & Community Center to form a VIPs program, which stands for Volunteers In Public Schools.
"(These children) will be doctors, they will be engineers, they will be what society needs," said ACC President Abdel El Khadiri, referencing the need to invest in fostering young immigrants.
9-year-old Zahrah already knows what she wants to be.
"I want to be a teacher," she said.
If you are an Arabic-speaker and would like to volunteer, here are the steps to take
Step 1: Register to be a VIPS member with HISD (Everyone must do this). This is required from anyone volunteering in any shape or form with HISD. For those who are interested, please go to www.houstonisd.org/vipslogin Please check the attached file that contains step by step instructions on how to do that (pay particular attention to mention Arab American Center in 2 places in that process).
Step 2: The HISD volunteer administrator will receive the list of us who completed the VISP registration successfully. They will then provide us with the list of schools to be assigned to. Those who have successfully registered will be instructed to go to the assigned campus to complete the background check.
For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 832-351-3366 or log onto Refugeelink.com