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  • Writer's pictureJanet Ferone

I’ve had the honor of supporting Boston University Hubert H. Humphrey fellows, mid-career professionals from developing countries, for the past five years, making some very meaningful friendships and visiting several in their home countries. So, when I heard the news of the impending Russian invasion of Ukraine, my thoughts went to Svitlana Taran, a 2018 fellow from Kyiv. I reached out and we began messaging, including the night the bombing began, while I watched the horrors unfold on CNN.

Sveta left her 9th floor apartment, sleeping on the ground floor of an acquaintance’s home, hiding from explosions in her city. During this time, she received and offers of refuge and support from Janis Volberts of Latvia, Olga Melniciuc (Moldova), Milos Zarkovic (Montenegro,) Vlado Develski (Macedonia), Tsatsa Dambiinyam (Mongolia), and 2017 fellow Alena Vachnova (Slovakia) and 2018 Humphreys from many other countries, who remained close over the years.

As bombing intensified, I was thrilled to get a photo captioned, “Janis took me to his country, Latvia, from the Ukrainian border”. Janis explained he and the other fellows were in constant touch and knew Sveta was fleeing Kyiv with just a backpack, and her shy nature led him to believe she wouldn’t ask for help. With his family’s support, he arranged to meet Sveta at the Ukrainian-Poland border, driving 13 hours, then waiting 20 hours for her to cross the border for the 13 hour return trip to Riga, bringing along a man and child they met at the border. Sveta told a harrowing tale of an exhausting escape for three days and nights, including a 24 hour bus ride cross ing the border.

Once in Riga, Janis and wife, Paula, found and funded an apartment for Sveta. Their two children, Ernests, 7, and Anna Luize, 9, love to communicate with Sveta and created pro-Ukrainian artwork to cheer her. Paula helped Sveta with the apartment ,while Janis helped with shopping and bank account, and the family joined Sveta in a pro-Ukraine, anti-war protest in Riga.

Sveta is able to work remotely at her previous job part-time, providing analytical support for the Ukrainian government to prepare to obtain EU candidate status, her contribution to the fight for freedom. Sveta suggests contributions to the National Bank of Ukraine for humanitarian aid.

As my heart celebrated this true fellowship, I saw a Facebook memory posted by Janis of a trip he and the fellows took to Nashville during their 2018-19 fellowship year, with the caption “All for One and One for All”. He certainly epitomizes that saying by his actions, along with the numerous other fellows that offered support.

This isn’t the first example of true fellowship I’ve experienced in this program, Last year when our fellow Jawad had to leave Afghanistan due to government collapse, fellows from Pakistan,

Noor-ul-Sarwar from his cohort, who encouraged all fellows to obtain Canadian visas, and Rashid Massod Alaim from 2005-06, who helped with travel arrangements from Kabul to Islamabad with some host families financially supporting his family left behind in Afghanistan, as they plan to reunify with him in Canada.

Artwork by Ernests, 7, and Anna Luize, 9

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  • Writer's pictureJanet Ferone

As a former school administrator for over 30 years with the Boston Public Schools, primarily working with students with disabilities, my first words of advice to parents are "MANAGE EXPECTATIONS". Many parents see the schedule going around on social media which outlines a full day in 45 minute increments, including school subjects, snack, and chore time, etc. While maintaining a routine is a good thing, it doesn't make sense to try to replicate a school day to the minute and can lead to frustration, particularly if the parent is also trying to work from home. I’ve included a sampling of resources at the end of this blog, and many more are available on educator and parent websites and social media groups, but don’t set the bar too high that is leads to frustration for both parent/guardian and children.

It is important to not overlook the emotional needs of students, while trying to provide for academic needs. The news gets scarier by day, and if the parent is older or with a chronic health condition, their children may have fears that the parent can become ill or even die. Tuning in to how students are feeling and what they might not be saying is just as important as math worksheets. Introducing or expanding simple mindfulness tools with children can help reduce fear and anxiety. Adding pressure of “school as usual” to scared and upset children will do little good, and your goal should be to create a safe, comfortable home atmosphere allowing space for fears and feelings, with a lot of honest reassurance from the adults. Once we pass this crisis, students will remember how they felt, not whether they memorized their times tables. You are not alone in this, as many therapists are using teletherapy for remote services. Check with your child’s counselor or pediatrician, local mental health agency, or school district for resources.

Rather than stick to an unrealistic, confining school schedule, try to use the time creatively to teach things that often don't get taught at school and students often wonder why. For a high schooler, financial literacy skills are important and not always addressed. Use your own household bills to teach budgeting, responsible credit card use, and the ever-present tax filing that teens will soon need to do. Other great skills can include cooking, home repairs, or yard maintenance including planting seeds and watching them grow. Ordering online meal cooking services like Hello Fresh or Dinnerly can help avoid social contact at a grocery store and provide a step-by-step meal plan that kids of all ages can prepare with appropriate adult supervision. And don't discount the importance of movement, perhaps in the yard or neighborhood walk, as well as many exercise or yoga videos online. Since students will be cooped up, virtual field trips to non-local places can provide a great escape. Or international concerts for artists they normally wouldn't be exposed to! And who could resist actor Patrick Steward reading a Shakespeare-sonnet-a day ?(in resources, below!)

Since many schools cut back on arts programming, this may be a great time to expose children to online concerts and shows, virtual museum tours, as well as allowing them free creative play to make their own paintings, sculptures, multimedia presentations. Perhaps they'd like to put on a theatrical or musical show for you? Give them the space to do so, and see how they might surprise you. (Bonus: you can get your work done if you are not over-directing them!)

Have a look at free resources online that I’m sharing, but first, why not tap into your child's interests to see if there is something they have always wanted to learn about but didn't get a chance to at school. Even younger students might have a burning passion and can be adept at using online searches to find information and put it together in a report or presentation. Much like the Montessori approach, letting students take the lead on their learning can lead to much more meaningful outcomes. This could also be a good time for students to work on social justice issues that they are concerned about, such as climate change or injustices that they see around them. You can also share social justice issues meaningful to you and jointly compose letters to policy and lawmakers, create social media campaigns, networking, and resource-sharing.

If students have diagnosed learning disabilities, autism, or ADHD, the parent's job becomes even more difficult and forcing students into a rigid academic structure may lead to tears and fears about learning. Most parents or guardians know that their children struggle more with them as teachers and may not want to show their weaknesses. Students may be used to using apps for learning, so continuing that practice can be helpful. Websites related to the child’s disability can also help, but again, “manage expectations” is a key phrase.

Many students who are from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) or LGBTQA+ communities sadly may not always be represented in the teachings at their schools. Many families report switching up the curriculum provided by their schools to fully incorporate diverse histories and people. We are currently still in Women’s History Month and with Black History Month in February, there are many online resources, some listed below. It might also be a great time to teach about your family’s ethnic histories (interview a grandparent or other relatives remotely) and child can do a multimedia presentation on their heritage. If your child is not represented in the teachings at their school, starting a social justice campaign to be more diverse could also be a worthwhile activity. There are probably many injustices that students might want to address and many online guides for contacting legislators and policymakers.

Schools have made arrangements for academic work, either online or through packets of work distributed to families. Make sure to check first with the school, where teachers may be available remotely and using google classroom to offer enrichment activities. The school’s homepage on website can direct you to online learning tools. Check with your school or district if you need an electronic device, or know of families that are in need. Please remember that due to equity issues, work cannot be required nor graded, not students penalized, so it’s another reason to lighten up and offer alternate learning. Schools are also offering meal pick-up in many locations, so feel free to use those services listed on school website.

Try to make it fun! This is scary and uncharted territory for adults and children alike, so instead of repetitive worksheets, try math card games. Instead of conjugating verbs, try read-alouds in the language your child is studying. Take a deep breath and realize that a brief break in high-pressure academics will not negatively impact your child, and everyone is in the same boat! You also should be aware that due to equity issues (both access to technology and adults to assist as well as special needs students’ IEPs not being met) schools will not be able to grade or penalize students, and have been advised to only provide enrichment content, not teach any new concepts.


Some free resources:

To reduce anxiety:

Apps such as CALM, HEADSPACE, coloring apps

Free SEL (Social Emotional Learning)

A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through Coronavirus

Activities and Resources for all ages:

Khan Academy - students are familiar with this academic site as teachers use this often

Patrick Steward Reading Shakespeare

Ipad apps for students with special needs

Parenting Your Challenging Child; Resources from Dr. Ross Green

Black, Indigenous People of Color Project ,

Black Homeschooling Resources:

Indigenous Peoples Curriculum Resources

Latinx Peoples Resources

LGBTQA+ resources

Women’s History:

Free online cooking classes - for older students and a bit more upscale

Stories in Spanish

Free coloring books from museums

Math card games:

Resources from homeschoolers:

Apps that integrate with google classroom:

Educational companies offering free subscriptions

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  • Writer's pictureJanet Ferone

UPDATE: Hours after this post, Supt. Chang abruptly resigned from Boston Public Schools.

Imagine living in a country where you face gang and organized crime violence daily, watching family members murdered and knowing you could be the next target to be killed, kidnapped, sexually abused with no help, and often additional harm, from the police. Imagine you are able to seek refuge in the United States and you and your family have settled in Boston where you attend school every day, eager for a good education.

While you initially felt safe in your new school and community, you watch the news of daily deportations, separation of family members, children put in cages. You feel a bit insulated living in the progressive Northeast, but then you see the latest news: Boston Public Schools are being sued by multiple organizations over sharing of information to federal immigration officials (ICE). (Boston Globe 6/22/18) You find out that a student was deported as a result of a school incident report shared with ICE and the school district refuses to reveal how often they give out personal student information to authorities.

You remember being assured by both Supt. Chang and Mayor Walsh in a visit to your school or in public documents stating that all students and their families would be welcome in Boston schools regardless of immigration status, but now you are afraid. You feel betrayed by adults you came to trust. Perhaps you watched as your East Boston classmate who had a verbal, not physical, altercation with another student was taken into custody on unsubstantiated gang involvement and held for 16 months before being deported. What if you have an argument with a fellow student and claims are made that it is gang-related? Would you face the same fate?

As a consultant who works in the Boston Public Schools and served as an administrator there for over 25 years, I have seen the fear on faces of undocumented students and their parents as they worried about being exposed. Yesterday I wrote a blog post on how we must create welcoming environments for all students, particularly in light of the increase in violence and hate incidents against students of color and immigrants. ( Today, with evidence of a potential “school to deportation pipeline”, the need is even greater. Teachers and administrators face a potentially insurmountable barrier to reassure students of their safety in light of these allegations and the school departments continued refusal to disclose the number of police incident reports shared with regional intelligence centers for the past three years.

As an educator, I have seen the determination of students fleeing violence, arriving with little English, and succeeding in school beyond their wildest dreams. Of this year’s 38 valedictorians at Boston high schools, about half were immigrants and there are similar numbers from previous years. Many of their stories are both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

In 2017, a student at a school I’m affiliated with was detained by ICE, facing deportation. A teacher at his school led the charge to fundraise and support him through his legal challenges, raising the $6,000 needed for bond. His next hearing in 2019 will determine whether he stays or returns to his native Guatemala where his mother sent him as an unaccompanied minor for his safety. Thankfully school staff were able to assist him, but this is not sustainable if more students find themselves in similar circumstances.

Our overworked teachers in underfunded schools will be facing these students who will be increasingly afraid to attend school and participate. Having received an email from Roger Brooks, President and CEO, Facing History and Ourselves on “Dehumanization at the Border”, I would like to share this wonderful organization’s resources from his message:

“Teachers and others who search our website ( will find over 150 articles addressing “Global Immigration”—including resources relating to “civic dilemmas”—which help teachers and their students address complicated issues of identity and belonging. Just last week, Facing History issued our annual summer reading list on our blog, Facing Today. In it, Tracy O’Brien, Director of Library Services, highlights two books (Refugee by Alan Gratz and The 57 Busby Dashka Slater), which “challenge readers to resist easy characterizations of people and situations, and instead to reflect deeply on ‘What is justice?’” We also have other materials, such as our teacher-created unit and webinar for teaching the book, Enrique’s Journey, by Sonia Nazario; our unit, My Part of the Story; and individual lessons that teach about exclusionary moments in our immigration history like the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese Internment.

With most schools ended or winding down for the year, we should think about supports for all students, but particularly immigrant students, during the summer and into the next school year.

In Boston, we have multiple sites providing free breakfast and lunch, as well as Guides for Immigrant Students and Families on its website ( Schools should use their social media outreach to connect with students and families who may be fearful of returning their child to school in light of the recent attacks on immigrants and the potential sharing of info with ICE and share community supports.

With school shootings on the rise, this potential “school to deportation pipeline”, along with funding cuts and policy reversals, our students are being attacked from all angles. If our children are our future, we must do better in providing schools where students feel safe enough to tackle the important job of accessing the best education they can.

Boston Globe: Chang, BPS Sued Over Secrecy Surrounding Student Information Sharing with ICE

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