Bellingham Public Schools Staff Provides Support for Somali Refugee Family

Community in Action

A core belief of The Bellingham Promise is “together we achieve more than alone.” Kathe Koruga, English Language Learner (ELL) family and migrant advocate for Bellingham Public Schools, brought that core belief to life by helping a Somali refugee family feel welcome and supported by the district.

In November, Andrea Quigley, ELL specialist and teacher on special assignment, along with her daughter and kindergarten teacher, Helena Quigley, joined Koruga to greet the Somali family and provide basic essentials. Koruga first became aware of the family when she was notified by another ELL specialist.

“As the ELL family advocate, it is my goal to make a home visit to new ELL families that enter our district in order to welcome them, provide them with community resources, and connect them with their school,” said Koruga. “It’s all about creating partnerships that help to support family needs, which in turn leads to student success and family engagement.”

The home visit was made possible through help of a Somali interpreter, Abdo Mohammed, which made the language barrier virtually non-existent. Koruga noted that this visit was particularly powerful because the students’ teacher (Andrea Quigley) came on the home visit with Koruga. Andrea turned to the Northern Heights community in order to help provide the family and their daughters, ages 8, 6, and 3, as well as their newborn son.

Koruga offered her guidance, emotional support and clarity for the family in their new Bellingham home. With the help of the community, Andrea and Koruga were able to provide the family with jackets, shoes, beds, bus passes, contact with an interpreter, reduced bills and job assistance.

The family felt welcomed and thanked Andrea and the Northern Heights community for all their kindness. During the visit, Andrea’s grandchildren were able to play with the children of the refugee family.

“They welcomed us in and the mother and Helena passed each other their babies, without a word of English they bonded as mothers. It was possibly one of the most moving things I have ever witnessed,” said Andrea. “As we left, the family kept reiterating that their home was now our home.  They couldn’t believe their system of support and were so grateful for being in Bellingham.”

As of late, Koruga has helped the family register their three-year-old daughter for Head Start and put the family in contact with Love. Inc., an organization that is donating furniture to the family free of cost.

The mission of Bellingham Public Schools is to collectively commit to our students and make sure that they are cared for and respected. We want to prepare them for success in the global community. Through Koruga and the Quigley’s, the children will now have the opportunity to be exceptional, create a passion for learning and continue to spread The Bellingham Promise in their own way.

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