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Learning From Our Students: An Interactive Family Experience

The Omaha Public Schools Welcome Center recently transformed into an interactive family learning experience. Posters with facts about the United States covered the walls as families entered the room. Inside, high school students offered a comprehensive lesson.

“I’m from Afghanistan, and I’m new to the United States,” said Wafa Mohsen, Benson High sophomore. “I want to learn the history of the United States because it’s important.”

Omaha Public Schools partnered with the University of Nebraska Omaha for this service-learning project. It’s called Citizenship: Learning from our Children. UNO students worked with Benson High students to research a U.S. president, write an essay and create a presentation to share with families in our English Learner (EL) parent program.
“We want our EL learners to not only be in the classroom but engage in activities outside the classroom,” said Benson High English as a Second Language teacher Rita Santiago-Garcia.
The event helps adult EL students with their citizenship journey. Attendees learn about U.S. history, observe models of civic citizenship questions and practice conversation.
“I find this to be very helpful for me, my children and my friends, and it’s important because we learned about the history of the United States, my new country,” said Sweety Naing, a parent who attended. “I can use this knowledge for my citizenship test.”

Santiago-Garcia says this program provides a jump start on studying for the citizenship test.

“One hundred questions sound really overwhelming, but if we can start with the first five questions, that will help them build the confidence to keep going,” said Santiago-Garcia.

Hassan Abdallah, a Benson High junior, moved to Omaha six months ago from Somalia. He presented, in English, facts about George Washington. He says he spent time researching in the library.

“It’s important to help me learn,” said Hassan. “To have freedom is beautiful, and in America, you’re free.”

Equity is a shared value in our Strategic Plan of Action, and Omaha Public Schools offers various services for families who speak a language other than English at home. The student-led presentation in February was the first time our EL Program hosted an event like this.

“It's a fantastic opportunity for our students to have a really authentic audience to practice producing academic language,” said Jaimie Cogua, coordinator of English Learner, Dual Language, Refugee and Migrant Education. “It’s this beautiful picture of bringing together our students with their families, learning from each other and highlighting the diversity within our district.”