Partnering with Ukrainian Families: Tips for Schools

Ukrainian children celebrate Ukrainian Independence Day

Learn how schools can partner with Ukrainian families and what educators need to know about serving Ukrainian students who have recently arrived in the U.S. This article was written for Colorín Colorado by a group of Ukrainian ELL educators who live in the U.S.

Image credit: Students from the Taras Shevchenko School of Ukrainian Studies outside of Washington, DC prepare to recite poetry at the Shevchenko monument in celebration of Ukraine's Independence Day. August 27, 2022. Photo by Allison Bailey / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

I have never felt as proud as I do now to be Ukrainian. — Oksana Kobzar, ELL Teacher

As U.S. schools continue to welcome Ukrainian families arriving in communities across the country, many educators may be wondering how best to serve their Ukrainian students. We had the unique opportunity to gather tips from a group of Ukrainian ELL educators who live and work in the U.S.

The team wrote about topics such as:

  • common questions Ukrainians have after moving to the U.S.
  • differences between the two countries' educational systems
  • cultural nuances and stereotypes

The teachers also shared their poignant insights about how best to partner with families currently arriving in the U.S. in the midst of the war in Ukraine. You can find more resources in these related resources:

Note: Special thanks to all of our contributors and to Dr. Ruslana Westerlund for her role in coordinating and reviewing this article.

Partnering with Newcomer Ukrainian Families

Exhibit: Children of War

In March 2022, Ukrainian artist and art teacher Nataliia Pavliuk and her daughter Yustyna began an art therapy program in Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine, where many refugees settled. They held classes in orphanages, hospitals, community centers, and art galleries.

Artwork that children created through the program is now on display in Chicago's Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. You can hear more about the exhibit in NPR's interview with Yustyna Pavliuk and exhibit Adrienne Kochman.

What can you tell us about the students and families who are arriving from Ukraine?

Nadia: When Ukrainians come to America, they are looking for a safe place to be. They are exhausted from the constant fear for their dearest ones and their country, from hearing sirens multiple times a day, from economic instability, and from other consequences of the war. They arrive here hoping to find support, and many may be willing to share their stories. In general, Ukrainians are very open and willing to share. Our people are generous and hospitable.

Ruslana: Many Ukrainians I have met arrived here not as complete family units, but rather as mothers and children without fathers. Not all families are like this, but many are. Those families who left through Europe in the first days of the war (before the age limit was put into effect prohibiting men age 18-65 from leaving the country) arrived in the U.S. with fathers.

What is your advice for schools that are welcoming students who are arriving from Ukraine?

Oksana: First, schools should know that Ukrainian families may speak Ukrainian, Russian, or both languages. It’s important not to make assumptions about which languages families speak. Ask families which language they prefer for interpretation and written translation.

It's also important to give families space and time to share when they feel comfortable talking about their experiences. Rather than asking a lot of questions at the beginning, offer your support and let them know you are available to talk or answer their questions at any time.

But at the same time, be ready to hear your families' stories, because each family's story will be unique and schools need to hear these stories in order to provide correct support and services. For example, I have talked to many different families who are arriving during the war. Some families that come from the eastern part of Ukraine have totally different experiences from families that come from central or western parts. I have learned that:

  • Some families have seen violence, bombing, and casualties.
  • Some families have been stuck underground or detained.
  • Some families left Ukraine immediately and saw very little conflict.
  • Some families have moved around or have been in other countries after leaving everything behind.
  • The issues and hardships on the ground affecting civilians and daily life may vary by city or region.
  • Many families have loved ones, including fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons, still in Ukraine.

For everyone that has left, their hearts are still in Ukraine. And there is so much trauma, but not everyone is coming with the same traumas. Some students are experiencing PTSD when they hear sirens, alarm bells, or airplanes, or even while they are on their flight here. And some young women have been the victims of sexual violence.

What are some examples of trauma-informed practice that can support Ukrainian students who have left Ukraine?

Nadia: First of all, I would recommend that teachers create and maintain an environment where Ukrainian students would feel safe (e.g., some students don't mind answering their peers' questions about the war, while for others these questions can trigger sad memories). Trusting relationships have to be established and sustained with students. In addition, teachers should watch carefully for trauma symptoms and address them right away.* Even checking in with a student might help a teacher understand better what the student is going through, but trust must be established prior to such conversations.

Ruslana: Most Ukrainians do not talk about trauma, PTSD, and depression for two reasons. One is cultural: caring about their psychological wounds and talking about one's grief or loss of a loved one is not common practice among Ukrainians. In fact, I struggled to find the Ukrainian word for "grieving." At the same time, Ukrainians have generational trauma from Holodomor (which was an artificial famine orchestrated in 1932-33 as a genocidal attempt to starve out Ukrainians); people were not allowed to talk about it in order to process it after it was over. So, processing trauma verbally and intentionally does not happen naturally.

The second reason is priorities. My nephew who still lives in Ukraine said that many Ukrainians he met do not have a roof over their house because it was damaged during air strikes, so they cannot afford therapy or talking it out because they need to fix up their homes and gardens so they can survive the winter.

Ukrainians who arrived as refugees (in the every-day sense of the word because they are technically not refugees), unfortunately, will find themselves having to prioritize seeking employment, adjusting to their new culture in the U.S., and providing for their families over attending therapy, even if they are aware of the need for self-care and their mental health. Understanding these reasons will help teachers and social workers have a more informed empathy.

*Editor's note: Educators are encouraged to seek additional support for students where needed, as well as training in trauma-informed practice if they have not received it within their school setting.

How can schools work with the community to support families who are arriving?

Oksana: Ask them what help they need and tell them about different kinds of help that are available. Learn more about your local/regional Ukrainian community through churches, schools, and clubs.

Olga: Many Ukrainians coming to the U.S. these days do not have refugee status but instead have temporary protected status (TPS). Community resources would be extremely helpful and much appreciated by most.

Ruslana: The Uniting for Ukraine (U4U) program is truly a unique program designed quickly to respond to the unprovoked and unexpected Russian invasion. Ukrainians who arrive under this program are not refugees and are not processed by the refugee resettlement agencies. Instead, they are placed into temporary sponsor or host homes. Because of this, the refugee resettlement agencies do not know about them or their needs and have no established method for reaching out to them and connecting them with services.

Several Ukrainians I have met told me how they do not know how to fill out basic forms (or which forms to fill out) and how to obtain basic hygiene or dental care. It is very important that social workers in school understand these basic facts about Ukrainians who have arrived through the U4U program so that schools can be proactive in meeting their needs.

Oleksandr: Ukrainian people with TPS are allowed to apply for a work authorization, but the wait is roughly a year and a half currently. And even with work authorization papers, people also have to wait a long time to renew their work authorization. As for newcomers under the U4U program, the biggest concern is getting their SSNs and work authorization. This can also cause U.S. sponsors to hesitate to agree to sponsor others since the waiting period is so long.

What more can you tell us about how these programs work?

Ruslana: Ukrainians arriving under U4U are parolees and are granted a temporary parole which allows them to stay here for two years. The expectation is that then they return home. Many are in limbo because they did not choose to be here and can’t plan their future. Ukrainians are allowed to apply for work permits who come under the Uniting for Ukraine program; however, the wait is long (up to six months) and many lose hope that they will obtain employment.

One lawyer explained to me that these work permits are not unique to the U4U program. The entire system for all those who seek employment authorization currently has a massive backlog. This waiting period is stressful and psychologically challenging because Ukrainians are hard-working, educated, and highly skilled. Many owned businesses back home but find themselves unable to work in the U.S. Many feel disillusioned and can’t plan their future without employment.

Some have told me that they expected to arrive in the U.S. and immediately resume employment and found themselves waiting without permission to work. On the other hand, while parents are anxious about their future, their children may feel like they’d like to stay here long-term because they like their school and they have made new friends. However, because of the temporary parole, the moms feel torn; even though their children want to stay, they can’t plan their life in the U.S. because they might have to return after the temporary parole ends.

What role is community support playing?

Nadia: When I compare community support in America and Ukraine, I would say that community support is more common in America than in Ukraine. However, with the beginning of war, Ukrainians unified and started supporting their soldiers and each other more than ever. That being said, they will appreciate any community support very much (although some people may be cautious accepting it as they aren't used to it).

Oleksandr: We have Ukrainian and American flags hanging outside. Many people have stopped by and said words of support. Some people helped Ukrainian people financially. I was asked to speak on the radio and gave a couple of interviews for papers and asked to speak at different panel discussions. With the beginning of the war, many people around us try to support and help us as much as they can.

Ruslana: The Ukrainians I have met since the war started have told me that they are amazed that there are free English lessons for refugees or many services designed just for them, like international friendship clubs which provide field trips and activities to see and learn about their community. They are impressed at the generosity of individuals and organizations like food banks and of people who are doing things like giving away their furniture. 

Acclimating to Life in the U.S.

What are some common needs you see for Ukrainians who have recently arrived in the U.S.?

Olga: When I moved to the U.S. six years ago, my biggest need was to connect, be involved, and be useful. I felt that I needed to learn a lot about the community and find my niche in it. Being curious about the new culture, I tried to use any opportunity to talk to people. I was thrilled when strangers at the supermarket would make a comment or initiate a small talk. Things like that are not typical practices in Ukraine. It was also interesting to see that people who barely met call each other "friends." In Ukraine, friendship takes time to build and the difference is made between "friends" and "acquaintances."

Since daily routines in the U.S. are very different from those in Ukraine, it may take a few weeks or even months to get adjusted and feel confident. It would be great for newcomers to have a guide or buddy who could help them navigate the new environment. Connecting with other Ukrainians in the community is a great way to do it. Opportunities like free English classes for adults and a variety of classes for kids at local libraries or churches would also be greatly appreciated. Any ideas of how to get involved in the life of the community and opportunities to lend a hand as well as receive help may be useful.

Nadia: Besides housing, food, and basic supplies, recently arrived Ukrainians need friends. When I say "friends," I mean they need somebody who is willing to:

  • listen (sometimes for a long time — many Ukrainians like to talk!)
  • explain to them how to shop (not forgetting about the taxes — in Ukraine the prices on tags are final)
  • teach them to drive (a lot of people in Ukraine use public transportation and don’t have a driver's license)
  • show how to send mail (when we arrived here, we didn’t know that we could send letters from our mailbox and drove to the post office every time we needed to send our mail out)
  • show them where/how to fill the gas tank, buy a phone, schedule medical and hairdresser appointments, and to do a lot of other things that people who live here just know how to do automatically.

I also say "friends" because it is not easy to gain Ukrainians' trust. (Ukrainians have been fooled so many times by their government, authorities, banks, etc. and they don't trust people easily. They will ask all the questions they have only if they consider a person to be their friend.)

Ruslana: Another most pressing need is learning English. Many Ukrainians, similar to other immigrants, are intelligent professional adults who find themselves lost, confused, and feeling "stupid" (using words of one Ukrainian professional) without being able to speak English in their new country.

Also, English is a very different language from Slavic languages. One of the biggest challenges people have shared with me is the sheer frustration that, "English makes no sense. Why doesn't one letter make one sound? Why are there so many silent letters? Why do you need them? Why is the spelling so illogical? I am a logical person and I see absolutely no algorithm to apply here."

These feelings of frustration with language are compounded by their lack of employment, which all add to a feeling of being overwhelmed, disillusioned, and hopeless for their future. On the other hand, one mom with her two children arrived here speaking English really well, but her frustration is waiting for work authorization so she can work in the U.S. (It’s important to know there are other Ukrainians who came here with English skills and their children ace the ACCESS language proficiency assessment and do not qualify for ESL services.)

Oleksandr: We need to know how to open a bank account, how to get a driver’s license, how and where to buy a car, how and where to repair it, how to pay bills, and what to do when there is no electricity at home. It is very difficult to start if there is no one to answer these simple yet very important questions.

Editorial note: Ukrainians arriving in the U.S. may be taking on new family roles while adjusting to a new culture and may need additional guidance on where to accomplish daily tasks as needed.

What kinds of mental health resources are necessary to have available for families?

Nadia: When people move to a new country, they have different experiences of adjusting to their new life. Some people do better making friends, finding a job, and speaking English fluently. Others may get depressed. Therefore, they need to have some contacts available in case they feel depressed, stressed out, or overwhelmed. It can be even a stranger who will listen to them and give a piece of advice.

Oleksandr: Families need to be involved in community life. Very often they struggle, because in Ukraine they had some communication and were needed but here they are practically alone and it takes time to find new friends and get involved in the life of the community.

Educational Systems

What do Ukrainian families need to know about the U.S. educational system?

Oksana: It’s very important to explain how the K-12 educational system in the U.S. works. Ukrainians are great at adapting to different situations, but they need to know how the educational system is different.

Differences between Ukrainian and American schools

Responses are compiled from Olga, Nadia, and Oksana:

  • Kindergarten is attached to State pre-school. Kids spend their time playing with their peers.
  • Kids in Ukraine do not start school at age of 5. Instead, they go straight to first grade, so it’s crucial to place children in the correct grade level here in the U.S. Most students attend school when they are 6-17 years old (for 11 years).
  • The grading system is from 1 to 12 (12 is like an "A" grade in America). GPAs will be new to students and families.
  • Elementary students are in cohorts that are often together for many years. As a result, families may not know that students will have a new class and teacher each year (and they may think that entering a new class is due to a problem).
  • Elementary school is similar to American one, but in Middle and High school, students have the same schedule during the year (they don’t have electives), and the whole class goes to different classrooms to have different subjects. As a result, students have the same classmates for many years and develop strong relationships and connections.
  • In Middle and High school, students have up to 14 subjects during the year. Some of the classes are every day while others are twice or three times a week. They have from five to seven classes every day (usually for 45 minutes each with a 10-20 minutes break between them). For example, students may have literature twice a week and math four times, etc. Students in Middle School study physics, chemistry, and biology.
  • Ukrainian students don’t have lockers. They carry their school bags with them or leave them in their homerooms.
  • Students take State tests only after the 4th, 9th, and 11th grades and usually take them very seriously.
  • Students do a lot of memorization.
  • Students probably don't have experience with project-based assignments. Families and students will need some guidance on how to complete these assignments.
  • AP and International Baccalaureate programs will be new to families and need some introduction and explanation.
  • Sports aren't emphasized as much as they are here. Families may not know about the opportunities available around sports and extra-curricular activities.
  • Families may be very hesitant to accept special education services. They will need a lot of information and trust-building to learn more about the special education system here in the U.S.
  • Hallway rules and routines differ: students are allowed to play in the hallways or outside on the playground during 10-20 minute breaks unsupervised. So, walking along the hallways "hips and lips" may be a little weird to them at first and/or cause "behavior issues." In general, students are given more independence in the school building, so I would suggest teachers go over the expectations with parents to avoid misunderstandings.
  • A lot of kids in Ukraine attend specialized schools, lyceums, and gymnasiums with various areas of specialization: science, math, languages, etc. It is very common for kids to attend a number of extra-curricular classes, such as foreign languages, dancing, music, and art.

Ruslana: Ukrainians use numbers to refer to grades in High School. Using words like Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior will be confusing. As a mom of a "Senior" in High School, I am still confused what grades correspond to Junior and Sophomore. I still prefer to say, "When my son was in 10th or 11th grade" instead of Sophomore or Junior to avoid mistakes. Also, saying Middle School may be easier to understand than "Junior High," which almost sounds like "High School Junior" to me.

What can you tell us about family roles in education?

Nadia: Ukrainian parents are usually very engaged in school life and decision-making processes. For conferences, parents come at the same time and decide together with a teacher how to organize a field trip or a party for their kids or how to decorate or remodel the classroom. They decide how much money they are ready to spend to cover these expenses. When we moved to America, we were surprised that we didn't have to pay for anything in our son's school.

Some parents might also complain about the quality of food in the cafeteria or a teacher's ways of teaching. Their classroom teacher tries to solve these problems with administrators after the conference and reports about the solution. It's important to understand that Ukrainian parents who approach their child's teacher with suggestions or complaints are not disrespectful; they are used to doing it that way in Ukraine.

Language Instruction and Considerations

What should schools know about determining students’ language and educational backgrounds?

Olga: Most schools offer English as a foreign language starting in elementary school. Some schools in Ukraine offer several foreign languages. Those are mostly the specialized schools called gymnasium or lyceum. In fifth grade, students may start a second foreign language. It is also not uncommon to study regional languages, like Polish and Romanian, at schools. 

Students may know a lot more in English than they will show in the first weeks. It is quite common for students labeled as "low" to show significant growth in the following months. Just like newcomers from any other country, Ukrainian students may be going through the "silent period" of language learning. Bear in mind that test scores do not necessarily reflect their actual abilities. Talk to parents to find out more about their background and education.

Ruslana: The silent period may have a lot to do with the period of sense making, cultural adjustment, and negotiation of students forming their identities as much as it is about their English language proficiency. Supporting students during this phase is critical as it may contribute to the degree to which students integrate into the classroom community. Social language is critical to develop during this phase.

While many believe that social language is easily picked up, social language is culturally-laden and presents challenges because it is the language of relationships and belonging. Even those students who come with some English language skills will need to go through a period of translation and transition to learn how children of different ages communicate in English in their new classroom micro-cultures and peer groups.

Oksana: I would add that trauma may also impact the silent period. And it's important to know that many Ukrainian students learn British English and may need some help understanding an American accent or learning different terms ("apartment" vs "flat").

Nadia: When students learn ESL in Ukraine, they often gain language skills in four domains (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) separately and out of context. They might have rich vocabulary and know grammar rules (sometimes better than the native speakers do), but they might struggle with applying this knowledge to real-life situations. Besides, their reading and writing skills are usually developed better than listening and speaking ones, because they don’t hear or speak English daily. They will need some time to organize and structure their knowledge in their heads before they will be able to add something new. Be patient and they will surprise you!

A lot of students have background knowledge in many fields (as they have up to 13 different subjects every year). Most Ukrainian parents understand the importance of education; for example, those who are able to invest time and money might sign up their kids for preschool courses where they learn how to read, write, speak English, and develop their motor skills. When their kids are in school, parents may hire tutors to increase their kids’ academic performance or to prepare them for the State test. They will pay for after-school activities that their kids choose to develop their talents or to gain some skills. Another characteristic of Ukrainian education is that new material has to be often learned by heart. As a result, a lot of students have a good memory. However, they might struggle with applying their knowledge to real-life situations.

Strengths and Assets

What are some areas of strength you would like to highlight?

Nadia: Historically, Ukrainians have been fighting for their independence for centuries. As a result, they have a strong will and they value their and other people’s freedom very much. They are also hard-working. In rural areas, almost every family has a garden and they grow their own fruits and vegetables. Kids often help their parents and grandparents and are not afraid of any hard work.

Ruslana: Ukrainians are the most freedom-loving people you’ll ever meet. Freedom is at the level of safety and security in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for Ukrainians. Our love and desire of freedom and being free gives us strength to persevere decade after decade and through centuries. That’s where our resilience and strength comes from: it comes from within and it comes from generational struggle for freedom for our dignity and sovereignty to have the right to exist as a people. 

Another area of strength Ukrainians have is in their creativity, resourcefulness, and inventiveness. Ukrainians can repurpose any discarded object into something useful. The older generation who grew up in Communism learned how to be inventive because, as we say, necessity is the mother of invention. That inventiveness carried over from the older generation to the new by creating something out of nothing.

Ukrainians are also resilient. Many shake off their trauma and pick up a paint brush and paint flower petals around the bullet holes in their fences and gates around their house without waiting for someone to come and give them money to replace the gate. People learn how to move on without attending to trauma because, some have told me, they have no time for that.

Oleksandr: Also, Ukrainians would try to fix everything themselves first before calling services and they are very good at it. And Ukrainian students are very practical and can solve problems very quickly for their age.

Oksana: I agree that Ukrainians are resilient, can adapt to other situations, and are not afraid to work. They will keep working and fighting and will not give up easily. That’s what makes our people so strong.

What are some ways to beat stereotypes about Ukrainian students and see them as individuals?

Ruslana: One of the most harmful stereotypes about Ukrainians that I have personally experienced came from a place of ignorance when people asked me (after a fundraiser for Ukraine), "Are you from Russia?" When these questions are asked in the middle of this ongoing war, it becomes tiresome to feel responsible for educating others. I often say, “No, I have never been to Russia and I am not Russian.” Yes, there are ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, but assuming that all Ukrainians are Russians contributes to the erasure of our identity as Ukrainians who are distinct from Russians and whose history predates Russia. For many Ukrainians, those are microaggressions and perpetuate old stereotypes dating back to the Cold War.

Some social studies teachers I observed in schools continue to teach the unit on Russia and when I suggested they teach a unit on Ukraine, they tell me, "We don’t focus on a single country." Many American social studies teachers equate Soviet Union to Russia, perpetuating the centuries-old myths passed on by previous generations, while continuing to teach the same units that their parents learned during the Cold War.

What are some cultures/subcultures within Ukrainian culture?

Ruslana shares the following cultural nuances:

  • The culture of personal space and politeness: Some Ukrainians who have recently arrived and are still experiencing culture shock have discovered that the personal space is quite big in the Midwest and they are confused about why people say "Excuse me" all the time. One person told me they feel like they have done something wrong when they hear "Excuse me" spoken to them, while in fact, they did nothing wrong but were standing in the grocery aisle with their cart reading labels. Newly arrived Ukrainians don’t understand yet that saying "Excuse me" in public spaces serves as a warning sign that they might invade your personal space. It’s very confusing to Ukrainians because our personal space is tighter and smaller and we don’t mind people walking past us or bumping into each other in public spaces.
  • Spontaneity of Hospitality: Other recently arrived Ukrainians have told me that while many Americans they are meeting are friendly, they won’t invite you into their homes and hold conversations on the door step without inviting you in. They said that in Ukraine people will invite you in and feed you (even if you are not hungry) and insist on eating until you give in. In general, most Ukrainians are more spontaneous about having people over and don’t need to follow a calendar to show hospitality.
  • Direct communication: Ukrainians are more direct communicators and have been described by Americans as "straight shooters" (we don’t use that language to describe how we talk in Ukraine because speaking to the point is our norm). Those people who are not used to direct communication may find the Ukrainian communication style abrasive or even rude. It’s important to understand different communication styles and not judge people’s character based on their direct or indirect preferences. For example, "Let me check my calendar and get back to you," may mean people avoid meeting you for coffee, but to Ukrainians, that phrase means that people will literally check their calendar and get back to them. On the other hand, when Ukrainians say, "I won’t be able to join you for coffee," it doesn’t mean they are upset; they are just truthfully responding to the question without avoiding the subject. Saying "no" is not being rude in Ukrainian culture.
  • Emotions: Ukrainians express emotions openly and truthfully, more so than other western countries. Ukrainians don’t apologize for crying when feeling sad and some find it confusing why Americans apologize for crying. Also, expressing anger more openly in Ukraine is the norm because it is viewed as another normal emotion. When I have expressed frustration and anger at something, people have seemed surprised and have said things such as, "How do you really feel about that?" followed by laughter. Those reactions, even though they are dressed in humor, appear judgmental. Another area of cultural difference slightly related to emotions is when Ukrainians ask questions about overpriced items or complain about the excessive government forms, that behavior is viewed as rude, because it is expected to keep those feelings to oneself and not to express frustration openly. However, for Ukrainians, it is acceptable behavior to be open with their emotions of frustration because they are human emotions.

Personal Stories

Are there any individual stories you would like to highlight?

Olga: It is important to remember that exchange students come to the U.S. after passing internationally recognized language proficiency tests. Students who come on exchange programs are the best of the best in their countries. However, during their first months in the country, they may still experience culture shock, having a hard time adjusting to the new environment.

Oleksandr: We had a family two years ago who got their green cards and asked us to help them find housing and work. We did that. They came, stayed here for a month, and decided that the jobs were not good for them and they didn’t know English well enough to get good jobs at first. They did not want to stay and thought that their apartment back in Ukraine was much better and life was still easier in Ukraine for them, so they moved back. Their daughter of 12 at that time liked school and life here, did really well at school, and was involved in Sunday School activities, but her parents did not want an “uncomfortable” life for them and low-paid jobs at first and decided it was easier to move back. Life in the U.S. is not for everyone and if you decided to move here, you would need at least a year to get used to all the changes. It is not the life you see in American movies.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Oksana: It’s so important not to isolate any students, whether they come from Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, or other countries that are implicated in this conflict. For example, a Russian parent I know called me to say that her daughter’s best friend said she couldn’t be friends with her anymore after the Russian invasion began. Her daughter was devastated. It’s so important to help kids keep friendships strong and be kind to each other, even as these bigger events unfold.

About the Authors

Top row (left to right): Oksana Kozbar, Ruslana Westerlund, Olga Malin

Bottom row: Nadia Vovchenko, Oleksandr Vovchenko

Dr. Ruslana Westerlund was born in Cherkassy region of Ukraine and emigrated to the U.S. in 1995. She received her doctorate in educational leadership in 2013 and now is a researcher and an educational consultant supporting school districts in Wisconsin. Since 1995, she has worked as a classroom teacher and a teacher trainer at undergraduate and graduate levels as well as at state and national levels researching, designing, and training states and school districts in improving educational outcomes for immigrant and refugee children. Most recently, she has been training teachers in the use of Systemic Functional Linguistics to support English Learners’ access to reading, reasoning, and writing in the content areas. She also used SFL in developing the new edition of the WIDA ELD Standards. Her TESOL webinar on this topic can be found here.  She is the author of several teacher articles which can be accessed in the Journal of English Learner Education and MinneTESOL.  Most recently, she co-edited a volume by Routledge titled Scaffolding for Multilingual Learners in Elementary and Secondary Schools.  In her spare time, she published a book, From Borsch to Burgers: A Cross-Cultural Memoir, where she used writing to process her cross-cultural identity and chronicle her immigration journey and her life in between.

Oksana Kozbar is a middle school ELL teacher who came to the U.S. from Ukraine in 2000, where she had been teaching English and German. She graduated from Vinnitsya Pedagogical State University specializing in Ukrainian Language and Literature and English a Foreign Language. She also received a Master of Arts in Applied Leadership for Teaching and Learning from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and a Master of Sciences in Curriculum and Instruction with the Emphasis in Linguistics from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In addition, she serves as a licensed Russian and Ukrainian interpreter for families in the Green Bay, WI area and an adult ESL teacher, sometimes teaching the families of her students!

Olga Malin teaches ESOL in grades K-5 and an English class for parents in Columbia County, Georgia. This year, she will also teach the ESOL Endorsement program to the teachers. Olga's native language is Ukrainian, but she also speaks Russian, studied German, French and Latin, and is learning Spanish. She earned her master's degree in Foreign Languages, Literatures and Linguistics at Chernivtsi National University in Ukraine where she continued to teach different aspects of English and translation, as well as several language programs. Here, in the USA, she became affiliated with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and completed her Ed.S. in Advanced Educational Studies with Concentration in ESOL at Augusta University. Last year, she added the Dyslexia Endorsement to her teaching certificate.

Nadia Vovchenko is an ELL teacher at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar, Minnesota. In Ukraine, she served as an instructional coach and gave professional development webinars and workshops for teachers around Ukraine. Oleksandr Vovchenko is a middle school ELL teacher in the same town. They moved to U.S. three years ago. In Ukraine, they both taught ESL at school and online. They also interpreted for American teams of doctors, teachers, and missionaries for 20 years.



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