Thursday, October 27, 2011

Community Builder Award Laurel Conran and Lisa Chertok

When a large influx of Burmese (Chin) families settled in the Bollman Bridge Elementary School district, it was clear that the school needed to expand programs so they could integrate the new students and help them achieve. Laurel Conran (an ESOL teacher at Bollman Bridge) and Lisa Chertok (a Bollman Bridge parent and manager at Coastal Sunbelt where many of the parents worked), designed a program to help the Burmese refugee parents learn English and navigate the day-to-day challenges we all take for granted. The women created a 6-week program, now in its third session, where they partnered English and Chin-speaking Coastal Sunbelt employees so they could practice language skills during lunch. The program also included speakers on topics like fire safety, health care, and how to get a library card. Thanks to the program, friendships have been made and the refugees now have a real sense of what it means to be part of the community.

Voice of America (VOA) reporter, June Soh, covered the awards after spending the day at Bollman Bridge Elementary School and Coastal Sunbelt Produce. The story will be ready late November and it will be broadcast overseas to over 100 countries, translated into 44 languages, and will be available to on their website and youtube.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is the honeymoon Over Yet?

Last year our ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) program population doubled as we received many new immigrants from South and Central America and refugees from the Chin state of  Burma. However, moving to a new country can be an emotional upheaval devastating to any child or parent. These symptoms are compounded when the child comes from a different culture and does not speak English.

What is Culture Shock?
Newcomers who act out in the classroom are probably suffering from culture shock. This is a term used to describe the feelings people have when they move to an unfamiliar culture. Immigrant and refugees may become withdrawn and passive or they may be aggressive. The more different the new culture is from their own, the greater the shock. Newcomers have left behind family members, friends, teachers, and pets. They have lost their language and culture. Often they do not have the support of their parents who are in shock too.

Four Stages of Culture Shock
It must be emphasized that every child reacts differently to moving to a new place. New arrivals usually go through four stages of culture shock.

1. Honeymoon Stage
During this stage newcomers are excited about their new lives. Everything is wonderful and they are having a great time learning about their environment.

2. Culture Shock Stage
The differences between the new and the native cultures becomes more apparent. Students and parents feel overwhelmed at this stage. There is so much they do not understand about their new surroundings. They are frustrated because they can not communicate and are bombarded with unfamiliar surroundings, unreadable social signals and an unrelenting barrage of new sounds. Students suffering from culture shock may seem sleepy, irritable, disinterested or depressed. Some children may become aggressive and act out their frustrations.
Newcomers in this stage of culture shock need time and patience from their teachers and community members.

3. Integration Stage
Newcomers start to deal with the differences between the old culture and new. They learn to integrate their own beliefs with those of the new culture. Some newcomers will start to replace the old values with new ones. Others will begin to find ways to exist with both cultures. Many immigrant parents start to become alarmed at this stage. They do not want their children to lose their language and culture.

4. Acceptance Stage
Newcomers are now able to enter and prosper in the mainstream culture. They accept both cultures and combine them into their lives. Some students will adopt the mainstream culture at school and follow the values of the home culture outside of school. During this stage many immigrant parents make it clear to their children that they do not want them to adopt the mainstream culture. This is because many immigrant students forget their native language and reject their culture and may loose their identity, which is a concern to many of their parents.
My students asked me to teach their moms how to make pizza.

As we approach a new school year, invite a new foreign-born family to dinner, go to their home and teach them to bake a favorite American dish, go to a high school football game, back to school picnic and any upcoming school/community events! Building bridges with our neighbors creates a strong and close collaboration between our families, youth and community.

~Stages of Culture Shock adopted by Judie Haynes~

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

For Burmese refugees, English lessons at work build school ties - The Washington Post by Laurel Voris-Conran on Monday, July 4, 2011 at 11:18pm

By Robert Samuels, WASHINGTON POST - Published: June 30

Laurel Conran filled a two-inch binder with vocabulary sheets for a class she offers Burmese refugees who work in a Howard County warehouse. The first lesson was on basic introductions; the second, on American holidays. By Lesson 6, the topic was health insurance.

For this elementary school teacher, there is a compelling reason to volunteer as an English instructor for the region’s burgeoning Burmese refugee community: If you teach the parents, it helps teach their children. She has also built bridges in other ways.

Driving to class one June day, Conran passed Countryside Fellowship Church in Savage, where she has prayed with parents. Then she passed two apartment complexes, where she has buzzed many of their doorbells.

“And do you see this hill in front of us?” Conran asked. “That’s where many of them walk to get to work.”

The hill leads to Coastal Sunbelt Produce, a fruit and vegetable distributor. This year, the company and Bollman Bridge Elementary School forged a learning partnership. Conran, who teaches English for speakers of other languages at the school in Jessup, does the same for the company at lunchtime.

Most of the refugees work on assembly lines in a building cooled to temperatures in the 40s. Wearing skull caps and heavy jackets, they chop, package and seal fruit.

Conran walked into the cafeteria, filled with the aroma of curry dishes. About two dozen Burmese workers, mostly parents, were huddled in small groups around an English speaker, who was practicing with them how to call in sick for work.

Conran’s teaching partner hugged her. When the lessons started in May, the partner spoke no English.

“What is your name?” Conran asked.

“My name is Fam Chua.”

“What is your job?”

Chua furrowed her eyebrows, then said: “I . . . make . . . salsa.”

Jean West Lewis, a community outreach specialist for the Howard school system, said there can be hurdles to connecting with refugee parents. Based on experience in their homeland, the parents might distrust authorities. Their ignorance of American customs might lead them to take a hands-off approach to their children’s education.

“It used to be that we would expect the parent to come to school to seek help,” West Lewis said. “This is a new, novel approach by going to their workplace and making it easy for parents to learn about us and how to work with us.”

In 2007, West Lewis told Bollman Bridge parents to get ready: A group of Burmese refugees was coming to their 600-student school from an Asian country, also known as Myanmar, that has been in turmoil under a repressive military regime.

That year, about 14,000 Burmese refugees were admitted to the United States. This year, the State Department is expecting 18,500, sprinkled throughout the country, from Milwaukee to Louisville to Howard and other suburbs of Washington.

In the past four years, school data show, Howard schools have registered 163 Burmese refugee children.

In fall 2007, Conran’s English class at the school jumped from about 20 students — mostly Spanish speakers — to 70. Many of the newcomers spoke the languages of Burma, such as Burmese, Zophei and Chin.

The school hired two more teachers to work with those students, as well as an interpreter.

Sometimes, problems arose. When Burmese students got into fights with other students while playing soccer, Conran helped discover a source of the dispute: The students had different understandings about the rules of the game. The assistant principal, a soccer fan, helped start a tournament to facilitate cultural understanding.

Even as the Burmese students were picking up English, Conran noticed that it was hard to connect with parents. After she made brownies for her students, one of them invited Conran to teach her mother how to use an oven. She seized the chance.

“A group of parents came to watch me,” Conran recalled. “They were all using it for storage! When I turned on the gas, they all jumped back.”

Lisa Chertok, a member of the PTA and a food buyer for Coastal Sunbelt, suggested that Conran could find many Burmese parents at her workplace.

Chertok and Conran crafted a curriculum. They matched students with parents. They arranged for an immigration expert to speak to parents about issues with a landlord. A police officer visited one day to tell the refugees they no had reason to fear U.S. authorities.

Chertok said changes in the workplace have been swift: more smiles, more handshakes, more conversations starting with, “How is your family?”

Bollman Bridge Principal Jonathan Davis said the initiative holds promise for the school as well.

“We think we can make everyone feel more comfortable visiting the school and being a part of our community if we encourage ideas like the language table,” said Davis, who has participated in the venture. “They are coming to school. The fathers asked to have a meeting to get to know me. It’s small, but it’s a start.”

One day at Coastal Sunbelt, Bawi Sung, a native Zophei speaker, said: “My English is coming. I am learning many things.” Here lessons are about more than language.

She has learned that it’s not a good idea to leave young children at home by themselves, even for a short time. And when the fire alarm beeps, it is a signal to replace the battery.

Most important, she learned that her child was old enough for school. Before she spoke with Chertok, she didn’t know how to register.

“Next year,” Sung said, “she will be in kindergarten.”

Building school ties among Burmese refugees A Howard County teacher’s reason to volunteer as an English instructor for the region’s burgeoning Burmese refu­gee community:

“If you teach the parents, it helps you teach their children. “

  • From 2007: New Burmese refugee group finds a home In Md. suburbs
  • Latest news from Howard County

Saturday, July 2, 2011

For Burmese refugees, English lessons at work build school ties

"A Howard County teacher’s reason to volunteer as an English instructor for the region’s burgeoning Burmese refu­gee community: If you teach the parents, it helps you teach their children..." ~Laurel Conran

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"I can't help my children with their homework because I do not know English." ...."Thanks to FIRN...

Please Join Us!!

Celebrating 30 Years!


FIRN's Ninth Annual American Success Awards Dinner

Tuesday, June 7, 2011 (6-9 p.m.)

Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center

Individual tickets $75.00/ Table of 10: $650.00

To purchase tickets: or call 410-992-1923 or

Visit my personal web donation page and help support FIRN

Monday, May 16, 2011


Lisa Chertok from Coastal Sunbelt and I received the first MELLFIN Award for our ENGLISH SPEAKING LUNCH SERIES! We had the honor to meet and speak with Alberto Retana, director of community outreach, U.S. Department of Education. He will be coming to the plant to observe this wonderful and unique program!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Touring Kunming

Teaching at the Kunming New Oriental School

Kunming New Oriental School
2号 Danxia Road, Xishan,

Kunming, China

Kunming is a multi-ethnic capital city of Yunnan Province, there are some ethnic minorities in Kunming including Sani People of Yi Minority, Huis,Bais,Miaos,Lisus,Zhuangs,Dais and Hanis.It is about 4.6 million ethnic people in Kunming which is 12.6% of the total population.

Among there ethnic minorities, Sani People of Yi minority in Shilin County is the most popular one.

As a branch of Yi, they are mainly distributed in Shilin County, Luxi County, Mile County, Qiubei County, Yiliang County and Luliang County.Sani People call themselves “Ni”, meaning happy people. They are diligent, brave and good at singing and dancing. Sani People have deep feeling for almost every hill and stone. There is a touching story concerning every scenic spot and the most popular is The Story of Ashima.

As a branch of Yi, Sani People enjoy some common cultural features such as similar character, religion and customs with the other branches of Yi. But they have their own features in religion, costumes and buildings.Yi People boast a long history. Their ancestors admired tigers and regarded tigers as their totem. But besides tigers, the totems of Sani also include spiders.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Learn English With Your Children!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bridging Cultures and Building Community

As a devoted teacher and an active member of the community, I am inviting you to become a supporter and a friend of this very important organization. FIRN’s mission is to ensure equal access to community resources and opportunities for all of our foreign-born families. It takes a community to teach our neighbors! Thank you for joining... me in bridging cultures and building community. ~Laurel

Thank you for your support, please click here:

A Butterfly Love Story of Shanbo Liang & Yingtai Zhu

…Connecting to what your students already know!
Shanbo Liang and  Yingtai Zhu
"My students from the Chin state of Burma loved the story of Shanbo Liang and Yingtai Zhu. I rewrote this short story to the students language proficiency level. I showed them these two pictures. The students and I read the story together. After we discussed the story, we listened to the music (link below). As the students listened to the story, they drew their interpretation of Shanbo Liang and Yingtai Zhu. Lastly, we did a shared writing and rewrote the end of the story." ~Laurel


A Chinese instrument, Gu zheng

The link to the "Butterfly Love Story"
In China, the Butterfly is beautiful, tender, romantic, brave and elegant.

Hua Die(化蝶)
(Becoming Butterflies--Chinese translation)
A Butterfly Love Story of Shanbo Liang &; Yingtai Zhu

“A long, long time ago, there was a smart little girl named Yingtai Zhu. She pretended to be a boy so she could study in school. (In ancient time girls weren’t allowed to study in school).

She met a boy named Shanbo Liang. The boy was very different because he liked art, he liked to write poems, and he liked the sea, mountains and all the original beauty of nature. Yingtai and Shanbo had a lot in common but the boy didn't know that Yingtai was a girl.

One day, Yingtai told Shanbo she was a girl. And then, they fell in love. Later, Yingtai's parents asked her to go back home to marry a boy that she didn't love.

But Yingtai and Shanbo were engaged and they did not tell their parents. Yingtai went back home and spoke to her parents about the boy she loved. But her parents were very angry with her and they locked her away at home. They wanted to have the wedding for her and the boy they chose for her.

Shanbo heard this terrible news at school and he was so sad and all he could think about was meeting Yingtai again. But his parents would not allow him to go see her at her house.

Shanbo stayed at home and became very sick…and one half month later, he died in sorrow of love. When Yingtai received this terrible news, she was so sad and ran to Shanbo's grave. She cried and cried and cried...

Suddenly, the grave opened and a beautiful butterfly flew out. At the same time, Yingtai became a beautiful butterfly too. They were happy and flew into the sky together. All the people were shocked about their precious love and that God changed them into butterflies.”

So now, when we talk about butterflies and love, we will think of this story:

This beautiful butterfly love story has been played in many theaters in China for a long time. There is also a song for their story. It was played by a traditional Chinese instrument named, “Gu zheng.”

Student's interpretation of the Butterfly Love Story. She drew the Gu zheng.
This student drew the transformation of the characters becoming butterflies.
This student drew the butterflies flying away together!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Family 2 Family

Family 2 Family wants to personally thank Grazia Di Rella for creating the logo. The logo truly represents our English-speaking families reaching out to our foreign-born neighbors and helping them integrate into our society! Please click on the "LIKE" Button:

Family 2 Family Testimonies:

"I wonder how I would have reacted if a program like yours was available when I came to this country literally running for my life in 1973! During those dark days, Nixon-Kissinger had little sympathy for a young person like myself who was working with Allende in Chile. Allende was the president of Chile. The CIA under orders from Nixon/Kissinger did the dirty work to overthrow his democratically elected government. How times have changed! I was alone, I felt like a cornered animal and terrified that the US government would send me back to Chile where I would have been executed or thrown in jail. I am grateful that America's values and decency was no match to Nixon/Kissinger." February 7, 2011

"I was very impressed by the event. Magic happens when a team of caring people works together. Thank you for creating such a warm and caring atmosphere for all of the Burmese parents to feel comfortable interacting with the school staff, community agents and learning with their children. I thoroughly enjoyed the night. Thank you again." March 25, 2011

"Thank you, Laurel for you contribution in helping to make Friday an overwhelming success. Clearly, your dedication to the students and their families shines through all you do." March 27, 2011

"Congratulations on such a successful program. It was wonderful seeing all of our students and their parents in attendance for your last class. The entire team of staff that has been working with our students are very committed to helping to remove barriers for learning so our students can be successful. I commend each and everyone of you for your participation in helping this to be an outstanding program. Hats off to a job well done!" March 12, 2009

"This program exemplifies collaboration and integration of outreaches to families. With your leadership and administration, a Nigerian proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child" is in full practice. You make it happen, when others only "hope" for great things to happen! Keep up the great work in identifying the needs of your students and families and implementing best practices/strategies to support all students." March 22, 2009

"This program is indeed a model to be duplicated!" March 22, 2009

"Dear Laurel, Thank you for sharing your newsletter-summary of the work you are doing to engage all families in productive ways in their children's education-including parents who may not speak English at home. There are many good ideas for the six types of involvement." Joyce Epstein May 29, 2009

Join Family 2 Family! Click on the "LIKE" Button!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Help our families learn these medical terms!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Global and Cultural Awareness

The first episode of HCPSS's "Powerful Partnerships, Amazing Opportunities!"

Click here:

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For those of you who do not have 38 minutes to view the entire show,here are some highlights!

This talk show is created by Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) to focus on certain "hot" topics by interviewing school system staff. For this episode, an ESOL teacher, a middle school principal, ESOL Coordinator and the manager of Partnership Office are interviewed by the host, Jennifer to talk about Partnership.

5:23 min. - FIRN and ACS is mentioned by Mary Schiller, Manager of Partnership Office in HC

7:08: Pat, ESOL teacher talks about the Korean Students Summer Exchange program

12:30 International parent leadership program

22:00 Interpreting during the fall parent-teacher conference - over 2500 requests (parent and teacher conference meetings ) used interpreters in 2.5 days!!!

24:00 Call Center - Korean and Spanish (24/7 parents leave messages in their native language)

25:00 FIRN is mentioned

29-33 Iksan, Korea and Howard County Partnership Program - VERY INTERESTING Segment!! You will learn a lot about Korean education system.

"Cultural Understanding" is understanding that WE have more SIMILARITIES than differences! :-)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Oral Language is the Foundation to Reading

Family Reading Workshop: Teaching Parents how to help their children read when they do not speak English! ~Family 2 Family