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Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Student Concerns

The Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Student Concerns (SACIRSC) consists of parents, community leaders, and staff who raise concerns voiced by immigrant and refugee students and parents; leverage the Committee’s knowledge, networks, and resources to identify solutions to the issues raised and advocate for timely implementation, and support the APS vision “to be an inclusive community that empowers all students to foster their dreams, explore their possibilities, and create their futures.”

Specifically, the Committee identifies and addresses:

  • Challenges that hold students back from living up to their potential;
  • Changes necessary to empower parents to support their children in school;
  • Ways to recognize and celebrate the contributions of immigrants and refugees to our community.

The Committee meets four times between September and May. For more information or to volunteer to serve on this Committee, contact Brian Stockton, Committee liaison, at brian.stockton@apsva.us.

Committee Leadership

2023-2024 Committee Leadership

  • Kathleen McSweeney, Chair
  • Janeth Valenzuela and Sara Jane Ibrahim, Vice Chairs
  • Marjorie Green, Secretary

2022-2023 Year-End Recommendations


The Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Student Concerns (SACIRSC) has focused this year on three major areas: Short- and long-term action to address critical problems with student mental health and well-being; the 5-year Strategic Action plan under development to improve the English Learner program; and continued improvements to communication with families.

The Committee’s discussions have been informed by in-school developments, parent and staff experiences, APS reports, and the results of the Committee’s spring-summer 2022 survey of how immigrant families experience communication with/from APS.

Each year, the Committee is charged with making year-end recommendations to the Superintendent. Below are the year-end SACIRSC recommendations from the 2022-23 school year.


I. Make student behavioral health a top priority next year: In the 2023-2024 school year, prioritize staff, financial, and other resources needed for both interventions for students suffering from a mental health and/or substance abuse crisis and development of a robust set of preventive measures ranging from more after-school and summer offerings for students to peer support programs for students and parents.

The Committee has welcomed quick action by APS this year to expand help for students in crisis and to budget for desperately needed increases in behavioral health staff for next year. We note that classroom and school-based administrative staff have repeatedly reported that they are exhausted by the social and emotional needs of students and feel they need help. Parents likewise are reporting feeling overwhelmed by their children’s mental health challenges. This environment, coupled with multiple school instances involving students in crisis, suggests that student behavioral health must be a top priority for the school system next year, underlying every decision that is made, including actions to address students’ school refusal, chronic absenteeism, and concerning drop-out rates district-wide.

II. Strengthen support for students through extracurricular activities: Engaging immigrant students in extracurricular activities fosters school community, develops skills and promotes physical, psychological and emotional health; yet, students of immigrant families participate at a much lower rate.

Barriers to participation as reported anecdotally by parents and in the Committee’s communications survey are:

a. High school athletic departments are focused on fielding organized, usually competitive teams.
b. Families lack information on activities, registration requirements and deadlines.
c. Families do not understand the benefits of extracurricular activities.
d. Families lack transportation to and from school or activity locations.
e. High school students work after school.

Recommended Actions:

  • Educate families: About what extracurricular activities are available, registration process, deadlines, how to participate, and their benefits. Include education for families as to what community resources are available for extracurricular activities, including programs provided by non-profits working with APS students that provide extracurricular activities and programs offered by County sports leagues and the Department of Parks and Recreation.
    Consider specifically tasking the Athletic Directors with connecting interested students with opportunities to play, whether on a school team or at another venue. For example, athletic staff might host a representative from the County Department of Parks and Recreation or from a sports league like Arlington Soccer to speak with families or students about their programs.
  • Funding: Allot some intramural funds at the district level designated solely for increasing EL participation in extracurricular activities. Schools would be eligible for a stipend if they have a plan of how to use the funds to increase EL participation in extracurricular activities that year. Make the application a yearly requirement. Encourage an EL advocate at the school to work with the Athletic Director to ensure that the funds are used for the best ideas to increase engagement and to help the program succeed.

III. Educate Parents: Refocus on ways to educate parents about APS programs generally, and specifically about their child’s progress. Recognize that parent education is ongoing. It is both critical for newcomers but also important for parents to understand options and challenges as their students progress through the system.

  • Create targeted information and programs for newcomer families, including welcome videos for ELL families on need-to-know APS information, as well as how the Academic Program functions in the US (i.e., placements, grading, promotions, diploma types). The Committee’s survey results show that too many families feel lost as they enter the system following registration at the Welcome Center and then are sent to their schools with no resource at the school known to them to learn and acclimate to the system.
  • In addition to videos for newcomers, provide informational videos for all EL families on how to participate in APS programs, including, for example, the School Options and Transfer program.
  • Designate a day at the beginning of the year at each school to offer an in-person workshop that covers the need-to-know information in the videos and allows parents to ask questions and meet staff.
  • Produce a handbook or ELL addendum: We strongly recommend that either the existing handbooks be translated with an ELL addendum or that a handbook be written especially for ELL families. It should include information customized by school, be provided in written and online form in at least four languages and be concise with clear formatting and plain language. Consider asking parents in the community to read the translations to ensure that they are understandable and in everyday native language. The handbook or addendum should include:
    i. Creating a ParentSquare account (with link to explanatory video in minority languages).
    ii. Navigating ParentSquare (with link to explanatory video in minority languages).
    iii. Navigating Canvas (with link to explanatory video in minority languages).
    iv. Free / Reduced lunch information and due dates.
    v. After-school programs registration.
    vi. Attendance / registrar contact information, an explanation of what they do and procedures for communicating with them.
    vii. Bilingual family specialist contact information and an explanation of their services.
    viii. Counselors’ contact information and an explanation of their scope of services (i.e., transcript requests, letters of recommendation, etc., including services they offer in elementary school).
    ix. Clinic contact information and explanation of clinic staff expertise and extent of services.
    x. Social workers’ contacts and an explanation of their services.
    xi. Information on school resources (for those eligible: free gym uniforms, school and sports fees, graphing calculators to borrow).
    xii. Information on the extracurricular programs offered by the school, schedule, due dates, needed forms and / or physical exams.
    xiii. Countywide resources (like DHS services, bus passes, dental clinics, health clinics, mental health supports, Dept. of Parks and Recreation programs). An example can be found at this link: https://careercenter.apsva.us/substance-abuse-resources/ This was compiled by Naghmeh Merck, a Social Worker at the Arlington Career Center and a member of the Committee.
    xiv. Information on the K-12 academic program in the US (i.e., placements, grading, promotions, diploma types).
    xv. Information on extracurricular activities and sports: what is available, how, if and when to try out, importance and benefits.
    xvi. Information on intramural sports and sports leagues in the county.
    xvii. Information on summer school and summer camps: what is available, how to apply, importance and benefits.
    xviii. Information on resources available from non-profits serving APS students and their parents.This handbook should be updated yearly. The information it contains also should be included on the APS website, perhaps in FAQ form and/or with tabbed sections.
  • Educate staff: Students are most successful when there exists a partnership between home and school, with successful communication. Include ongoing intercultural communications and implicit bias training for school administrators and athletic directors, as well as classroom and student support staff. One example of training can be located at: immigrantsrefugeesandschools.org.

IV. Empower and support parents: It is in the best interest of APS staff, students, and families for the school system to create strong community bonds with immigrant families. Unfortunately, the survey and feedback from parents indicate that too often these community bonds are lacking. Families feel left to navigate systems on their own and may feel as if school staff are not eager to talk with them. Consistent school engagement with immigrant families is critical to successful academic outcomes. The engagement should be based on the wants and needs of the families, and should be both in person and through easy-to-use communication platforms. This means:

  • Parent-teacher meetings; Re-format them to expand participation options and encourage parent access to information. Provide hybrid in-person/online options for ELL families when attending back to school nights and parent/teacher conferences.
  • Parent groups: Emphasize to staff the importance of informal parent groups and formalize the parameters of the relationship between APS staff and parent groups to ensure cooperation and collaboration. It is in the best interest of students, families, and APS to bolster this relationship and empower parents to help one another. Encourage community engagement within and outside of schools.
  • Support non-profit partners: Explore the possibility of increasing APS staff and budgetary support for minority and immigrant-led nonprofit organizations that are already providing services to EL families (students and parents). For example, non-profit partners like Edu-Futuro, Aspire!, and The Dream Project have worked for years to help youth from immigrant households to graduate from high school and enroll in college. These efforts complement the work of APS and need to reach a greater number of immigrant and Latino students.
  • 1:1 parent support: Consider some type of peer mentor or buddy program in which a new family is paired with a current APS family that is willing to walk them through the how-to’s, answer questions, and just generally support them.

History & Accomplishments

2021-2022 Accomplishments

Goals and Objectives: To raise concerns voiced by immigrant and refugee students and parents to the Superintendent; to leverage the Committee’s knowledge, networks, and resources to help identify solutions to issues and advocate for timely implementation; to support the APS vision “To be an inclusive community that empowers all students to foster their dreams, explore their possibilities, and create their futures.”

In-Depth Focus on Area: Communication & Family Engagement

  • Intro of Spanish-language FB page
  • Talking Points
  • Bilingual Family Liaisons
  • New Student Progress Dashboard design, especially with respect to EL data
  • Bell Times engagement process

Forum to Raise, Discuss Community Concerns

  • Student registration & online verification process
  • Mental health, substance abuse
  • School safety
  • Summer School
  • Virtual Learning Program
  • Transportation/walking zones
  • Translation capacity for parent meetings
  • Columbia Gardens tenants relocation and impact on students

APS Updates for Community

  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives
  • English Learner and literacy program results

Vehicle for Feedback to APS

  • Start of school, including transportation
  • English Learner Policy & PIP
  • Virtual Learning Program
  • Bilingual Family Liaison job description rewrite

Source of Parent/Community Expertise for APS Initiatives
Members serving on 5-Year EL Plan Development Task Force & interview panel for Chief Academic Officer

2020-21 Accomplishments

2021 Year-End Report July 2021

2019-2020 Summary to Superintendent in July 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic upended the work of the SACIRSC mid-stream, advocacy on broader access and equity issues was superseded by concerns about families’ basic needs and about connectivity and support to enable distance learning. This new focus prompted initiation of direct-services work on grocery distributions, interventions to help families get and stay connected to APS and County services, and a new focus on communications and engagement gaps. SACIRSC members – both community leaders and staff – responded heroically, giving many additional hours to their work to help families. Please see specific accomplishments below.

2019-2020 Accomplishments: 

  1. Policy changes: Provided feedback on admissions policy/PIP to clarify the conditions under which immigrant students living with a non-parent (kinship) caregiver may be enrolled. J-5.3.30. This removed barriers to enrollment for some students whose parents could not care for them.
  2. Raised equity concerns and recommended alterations to various policy changes, including use of new visitor ID’s, move to online first-day packets and move to online FARM registration.
  3. Community updates: Sponsored summer 2019 Know Your Rights session for families, including on-site completion of powers of attorney designating a caregiver for APS purposes.
  4. Staff updates: Delivered updates on public charge rule and other developments at the summer 2109 Administrative Conference and for 70+ bilingual family liaisons, counselors, and social workers in September.
  5. English Learner program: Solicited feedback from families and provided recommendations on changes to the EL program. Provided feedback on proposed distance learning plans for EL’s in spring and at points during implementation.
  6. Social safety net: Identified gaps in FARM services and recommended additional sites during implementation of grab-and-go meal program in the spring. Compiled and distributed weekly What You Need to Know summaries for families, starting in March.
  7. Strengthened relationships with County officials who play a key role in ensuring the social safety net. As part of this work, surveyed families to ID priority concerns and shared them with APS and County DHS and communications officials, prompting the County to use new avenues, such as short videos, to improve communication.
  8. Worked directly with hundreds of families to help them find the appropriate APS contact for a particular need, e.g. problems with connectivity or device, as well appropriate County contacts for food, rent, etc. Organized and raised funds for ongoing monthly grocery distribution and cards to 300+ families.
  9. Collaboration: Facilitated development of relationships in the immigrant community that resulted in collaboration on communications and assistance, creation of a volunteer Abuelitos program, consisting of retired APS EL teachers, to tutor interested EL students during the summer, etc.

2018-2019 Accomplishments included:

  1. Got clarification in APS policy and practices that the school system will accept a power of attorney that designates a caregiver living within 30 miles of Arlington in the event of parent detention/deportation to enable a child to stay in his home school for 180 days or the remainder of the year, whichever comes first.  J-5.3.30
  2.    Advocated for closer cooperation among APS, County government, and non-profit community organizations to strengthen the social safety net that undergirds students’ ability to succeed in school.


View the original report which led to the formation of the Committee