We're very excited to have our friends coming back to visit us! ~mack
(The following is submitted from nelovesps.org)
During our first visit to Chadron, we spent our time exploring what individual instructionlooked like in their district. But for us, there was something more to the Chadron story that stuck out to us – a story we hadn’t quite been able to tell. Well, until now.
Our crew lives in Omaha. We travel to different towns across the state. We know there’s a stark difference between “Omaha” and “the rest of Nebraska” and we understand that people on the East side of the state misappropriate Kearney as “West” when really it’s the closer to the center of our state. We’ve traveled to Chadron and it’s very different than the middle; it’s very different than anything we’ve ever seen.
Aside from the terrain that most of our team remarked more “Colorado” than Nebraska, the surprise came when we learned of the people who live in the community. What we had come to expect based on the towns and cities similar in size to Chadron was a farm community, a college-town feel, a rural, near 6,000-person town. We also imagined that because Nebraska’s fastest growing student population is its English-language learners (ELL) population, and the trend in rural towns in the state skews to families from Latin and Central America, we imagined that if the community had a predominant ELL population it would be Spanish speaking students.
However, what we discovered is an increasingly high number of students and families from the Marshall Islands have found their way to this northwestern Nebraska town. Some may ask – as we did many times – “these families move from a blistery, sunny climate to the frozen, windy tundra of Nebraska…to Chadron?” The “why” answer to the question is complicated and rich in sentiment. Because of the island’s history with the United States, the Marshallese have legal residency – they are neither citizens nor do they have alien status. The staff at Chadron Public Schools shared that due to the sudden changes in the natural environment on this island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, the rising seas and damaging storms are becoming so hazardous to its people that they must find a place to resettle.
Over the past few years, families and students make the near 50-hour trip and to find a home in Chadron. What becomes most appealing for the Marshallese in the relocation process are the educational opportunities for their children and the community of others from their homeland – both of which are present and welcoming in Chadron.
When it comes to schools, however, there is a huge learning curve for families. Formalizing the education process for children who haven’t any experience with education is a challenge for parents and teachers. Chadron Public Schools ELL program has taken legs in recent years to accommodate more and more students. Once a distance-learning program for one student, the ELL class helps navigate the language barrier and a cultural barrier to acclimate students and help them progress in their studies.
Translation issues, cultural differences and climate adjustments are just the tip of the iceberg for what we’re ready to explore. We leave for Chadron on Sunday morning and we’re meeting with Marshallese families, school officials and students to learn more about their experience in the community and in Chadron Public Schools. We’ll learn more about a family’s migrant story and observe students at home, at church and in the classroom. We’ll talk to staff at the school to understand their challenges and growth (We’ve heard the Marshallese student choir is remarkable). Ultimately, on this trip, we want to learn more about how Chadron Public Schools lifts these students and helps the families grow along the way. It’s a remarkable story that we feel needs to be told. Stay tuned for more in the coming days.