Program seeks to open line of communication with Haitian families



When Young-chan Han was approached a few months ago by school system administrators who were concerned about the lack of communication between schools and Haitian families, she faced a unique challenge.

There was no data that could accurately track the number of Haitian students, so Han, a specialist with the International Student and Family Outreach Office, went to Haitian churches and worked with French and Haitian Creole interpreters.

She came up with a program for families that will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. today at Faulkner Ridge Center in Columbia.

Session topics include educational assistance for children during summer vacation, the importance of attendance, keeping children safe and healthy, and services provided by the Howard County Library. A pot luck lunch, including Haitian and American cuisine, will be served.

Han said many of the administrators were frustrated with the lack of success they had communicating with Haitian parents.

"They didn't know how to support the families," Han said.

Haitian families tend to be "invisible" because most do not attend parent-teacher conferences, back-to-school nights or other school functions, the administrators told Han.

"We do not have a list of Haitian students, except for a handful of ESOL students," Han said.

Han said there are estimates that between five thousand and six thousand Haitians live in Howard County.

"I'm sure it's more than that," she said. "There really is not a true picture of how big this community is."

Han made progress when she attended two Haitian churches in Howard County and began to make contacts with members of the congregations.

"We really had to be very strategic," Han said. "[The families] weren't coming to us. We had to come to them. ... We discovered that a lot of them were interested in the education of their children."

Han altered her usual format for this outreach, which includes a mix of "school issues with survival needs."

For example, parents in attendance will have the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network (FIRN), a group that helps to assist recent immigrants to Howard County.

"We're hoping that this will be the first of many workshops that we will hold with the families," Han said.

Next year, Han wants to host similar outreach events for the system's growing Nigerian and Vietnamese populations.

Similar outreaches have been held for the Korean community, Hispanic community, the Arabic-speaking community, and for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Counselor arrested

The car belonging to a Howard High School guidance counselor that had crack cocaine in it was locked, according to court documents.

Alan Silberman, 62, was arrested Wednesday after a police dog alerted investigators to drugs in Silberman's car.

Silberman, who has worked in Howard County for the past 35 years, was charged with possession and has since been placed on paid administrative leave.

The school system will conduct an investigation to determine his future employment.

Silberman, who served as Howard High's senior class counselor this year, will not be allowed to return to the school or attend school functions -- such as graduation -- while on administrative leave.

"The hard thing is that it happened so close to graduation," said school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "[The seniors] are the class that has known him the longest. There is really no good time for this to happen."

Caplan said an employee who has a substance abuse problem is not automatically terminated, and that the school system offers assistance.

"We are going to give them the opportunity to get it together," Caplan said.

But once an employee brings prohibited substances, such as drugs or alcohol, to school, that can result in termination, according to Caplan.

"Having [drugs or alcohol] on school property is on a different level," she said.

Silberman is the fourth Howard County high school faculty member arrested this year.

The other three arrests involved allegations of improper sexual conduct.

"This has been a difficult year," Caplan said. "It's very unusual, disappointing and upsetting.

"What has occurred has been a result of individual decisions," Caplan added. "It in no way represents the school, district, or the teaching profession."

Hi-tech devices

County students are being urged to leave high-technology devices at home this week when High School Assessment tests will be taken. That means no iPods, cellular phones, MP3 players and any other hand-held devices.

"They are a violation of school policy," Caplan said. "And we don't want people taking pictures of the tests, or text messaging answers to their friends."

The school system spread word about the prohibited items through an eschoolnews letter sent to high school parents last week.

Some middle and all high school students in the state will be tested in algebra, English, American history and biology.

The HSAs took on additional importance last year, becoming a graduation requirement for the Class of

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