NPT Reports: Kurdish Community Tries to Bridge Cultural Gap with Schools

For many students new to the United States, school can be the greatest adjustment. Helping to close that culture gap is why members of the Kurdish community gathered recently at the Salahadeen Center of Nashville, a Kurdish mosque and community center, for an education seminar with representatives from Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“We invited them so they know about our culture. So education both sides—educate them and they educate us…in order to build a strong bridges between the parents and the community and schools to more help our students,” said Salahadeen Center President Nawzad Harami.

Nashville is home to the largest Kurdish population in the United States, and Kurdish students make up the third largest immigrant population group in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Seminars like this have been held before, but this was the first time that high-ranking officials from the district attended, including Director of Schools, Dr. Jesse Register.

“I think that in Nashville we have the opportunity to lead this country in embracing the diversity and valuing the diversity that we represent. You represent a very important part of our community. And I think it is so important that we as a school system adjust and learn how to embrace that increasing diversity, because every one of your children—we now serve over 81,000 children—are our children,” Register said to the packed audience of mostly Kurdish parents.

“We cannot educate your children to the level of success that we would like to without you being involved in school with us.”

While many Kurdish students have already overcome language barriers, cultural challenges can take longer to navigate.

“They take a little bit of their home culture, they take a little bit of their new culture—and they learn how to make that work for them,” said Mary Holland, Ed. D, NCLB Family Specialist at Paragon Mills Elementary School. She discussed ‘third-culture’ children who have a sense of belonging to several cultures but may not be capable of accepting any one culture as their own.

“Your children may not feel completely khurdish; they may not feel completely American. And that’s where we as parents have to come in and help them find their way as they become adults,” said Holland.

Eighth grader Sarwar could relate to Holland’s talk.

“Sometimes, you feel you’re different. You know you’re different when you go to school and you see other people, other races, other ethnic groups. And then when you come home it’s a whole different story. At home you might speak Kurdish and English or you might mix it and then when you go back to school, and your mind gets a little mixed up,” he said.

The different perceptions about the culture of parental involvement can sometimes be the biggest hurdle to clear, according to Gini Pupo-Walker, Director of Family and Community Partnerships for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“It’s very uncommon for the parents to be involved in the school [in their home countries], helping in the library, helping at lunch, helping on the field trip…So when we have families come here from other cultures, they don’t immediately understand that in American culture and classrooms, the teacher expects parents to come in and participate and help,” said Pupo-Walker.

At this event, the main focus was to explore ways to keep Kurdish students in school and on track to graduate.  Muhammad, a parent who attended the seminar, said he has tried to get other parents in his community to be committed to their child’s longterm educational success.

“Not to look to the short objective–to get a child to drop out of high school, to make seven dollars an hour to working in a place and then to destroy the future of that child. You have to be patient to that child to finish high school and be able to go to college, at least community college, so that child can feel he achieve something,” said Muhammad.

“When the child is living between the two environments, and when he goes to school he’s a different person and when he comes home, another person to deal with—-it’s not easy for him. So you have to create that common ground for that child not to feel that’s a conflict. To make it a bridge between them, but in fact that’s hard work.”

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