Newcomer assistants help Afghan children and families adapt

Thursday, September 16, 2021 - 8:30am
Kai and student

Kaiqubad is fluent in five languages and spent years as a translator for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Now he's helping refugee children and families adapt to school life in Colorado.

Kai at Stukey

Four years ago, Kaiqubad Noori and his family moved to America from Afghanistan, where Kai served for years as a translator for the U.S. military. This year, Kai started a new job, as a newcomer assistant at Stukey Elementary School in Northglenn where he is helping Afghan families adjust to their new lives in Colorado.

Fluent in several languages including Pashto and Dari (the two official languages of Afghanistan) and a father of three (including two sons at Stukey), Kai was immediately excited about the job opportunity. 

“I love the job and I love helping,” Kai shared. “And I know what these families are going through. I feel fortunate to be able to help.”

Kai had lived on military bases before, but the move to America was still overwhelming. Even though Kai is fluent in English, his wife and two small sons were not yet. 

“The first two years were a big struggle,” he said. “I was husband, father, translator, driver and provider. It’s a lot to go through. I am glad I can now help families that were in my same position.” 

In his role as newcomer assistant, Kai moves from classroom to classroom helping the 23 Pashto or Dari-speaking students at Stukey Elementary so that they can follow lessons, participate with classmates and learn new routines.

Kai said it’s not only the students that need support. “The families also need to be able to communicate with the teachers. They need to learn how everything works here. And they need support from someone that understands them.” 

Kai and student

Kai says the kids are often very shy at first, especially the children that don’t have any introduction to the language or culture. 

“They are in class, not understanding the teacher, but everybody is having fun and learning and participating – they don’t know what they are missing or how to join in,” he said. “They can easily get bored and want to go home. I am there to help them understand how things work and have patience and keep trying.”

“We felt like we won the lottery when we found Kai,” said Amanda Clayton, English Language Learner Program Director. “It’s really exciting to see when kids walk into school and they can see somebody who looks like them, is from their community and speaks their native language.”

Most of us cannot imagine what it feels like to sit in class as a child and not understand anything your teacher is saying – let alone any of your classmates. And yet, it happens more often than most people might think.

Adams 12 Five Star Schools has 654 total newcomer students enrolled currently. A newcomer is defined as any student enrolled for less than two years that tests at the beginning level of English proficiency. 

Most newcomer students are Spanish-speaking immigrants from Central and South America but, in recent years, refugees from Afghanistan have increased. Currently, Pashto and Dari-speaking newcomers are the second and third most common languages spoken by newcomer students in the district.

In a first this year, the Five Star District added newcomer assistants to 11 elementary schools to better support not only Spanish but also Pashto and Dari-speaking newcomers. Stukey Elementary School hired Kai to assist with their 23 Pashto-speaking newcomers and McElwain Elementary School hired two moms that share the position to help with their 53 Dari-speaking newcomer students.

“We’ve worked hard to build robust supports for our newcomer students and families and we will continue working hard to make sure they have the tools they need to succeed,” said Amanda. “We want to do everything we can to help our newcomers feel welcome and safe and feel they belong in our community.”