AskNCELA: Supporting the Social & Emotional Learning Needs of Afghan & Other Newcomers

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AskNCELA is back with responses to frequently asked questions from OELA’s January 2022 webinar, Education and Afghan Newcomers: Keeping the Promise, hosted in partnership with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Office for Civil Rights.  The webinar featured information on strategies to assist Afghan and other newcomer students as they enter American schools. As part of Operation Allies Welcome, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes the immediate and urgent need to provide high-quality, culturally responsive approaches to support the social and emotional needs of Afghan students in their new learning environments. The information presented is also relevant to other newcomer student populations.

Education & Afghan Newcomers

1. What are the rights of Afghan newcomers to education?  How does the U.S. Department of Education support these rights?

In the United States all children have the right to free public education. Children have this right regardless of their or their parents’ or guardians’ immigration status. Confronting Discrimination Based on National Origin and Immigration Status: A Resource For Families and Educators is a new resource from the Civil Rights Division (the Division) of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education that outlines the rights of students and their families when enrolling and attending school in the United States. This document reminds families and educators that schools may not prevent or discourage children from enrolling because of immigration status or lack of documentation such as birth certificates or social security cards. The document also states that schools must provide language assistance as well as disability related services to all students who may need them. This resource also provides guidance on what families can do if they believe that their child is experiencing discrimination based on immigration status, or if their child is not receiving services that he or she is entitled to.

Additional resources on schools’ civil rights obligations to English learners and parents who require English language assistance can be found here.

2. What language resources exist in Dari and Pashto to help communities support our Afghan newcomers?

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a Keeping the Promise webpage that features resources to help communities support Afghan newcomers and their families. This page features a number of curated resources intended to help SEAs and LEAs in serving Afghan newcomers. Under the Linguistic and Cultural Resources tab, you will find helpful tools and resources on Dari and Pashto languages, as well as Afghan history and culture that can help communities in the U.S. welcome and support Afghan newcomers.

Trauma-Informed Learning & Immigration Status

3. What are best practices around trauma-informed learning?

One of the resources from the U.S. Department of Education is The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, which is funded by the Office of Safe and Supportive Schools. The Center provides information and technical assistance to states, districts, schools, institutions of higher learning, and communities for improving school climate and conditions for learning. When equipped with the right resources and support, educators and educational stakeholders can collaborate to create and sustain safe, engaging, and healthy school environments that support student academic success. The Center’s website includes information about training and technical assistance, products and tools, as well as latest research findings.

You may also find the page on Cultural and Linguistic Competence helpful as you work to support Afghan newcomers. 

4. To what extent does immigration status affect Afghans’ access to Federal Aid and other scholarships to attend higher education?

Students who are not U.S. citizens but have permanent resident status may qualify for financial aid. More information and frequently asked questions about federal student aid and non-U.S. citizens can be found on the Federal Student Aid website.

Adult Education & Parent Roles In K–12 Education

5. What resources exist to support adult education?

For information on adult education resources visit the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE). OCTAE administers and coordinates programs related to adult education and literacy, career and technical education (CTE), and community colleges. For news about career and technical education, access the OCTAE Connection Newsletter and OCTAE Blog. OELA has also recently released an infographic on the benefits of CTE for multilingual learners. 

6. What can we do to help parents understand their roles in K-12 education systems?

The Family and Community Engagement Team at the U.S. Department of Education is dedicated to strengthening the voices of families by focusing on the needs of students with the mission to allow every student to reach their full potential. Their website provides many resources on how family members can support their children in U.S. schools. In addition, the English Learner Family Toolkit produced by OELA is intended to help families advocate for their children’s needs in U.S. educational context. Educators, elementary and secondary school teachers, principals, and other school staff can share the toolkit as a resource for English learners and their families. Two chapters of the toolkit are currently published, and additional chapters are forthcoming. 

Watch the full webinar, Education and Afghan Newcomers: Keeping the Promise, below.


AskNCELA is intended to share information that can be of use to educators, parents, learners, leaders, and other stakeholders in their efforts to ensure that every student, including English learners, is provided with the highest quality education and expanded opportunities to succeed. The information and materials presented in AskNCELA do not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by NCELA, the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), or the U.S. Department of Education. 

Blog tags
Afghan Newcomers
K-12 Education
Trauma-Informed Learning
Immigration Status
Adult Education