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Westfield Public Schools prepare to welcome influx of Ukrainian refugee families

Here in western Massachusetts, Westfield Public Schools has seen an uptick in enrollment from Ukrainian refugees as the Russian invasion continues.
Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 4:50 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - On Thursday, President Biden announced a plan to bring in Ukrainians fleeing war to the United States. This followed the President’s promise he made about a month ago to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Here in western Massachusetts, Westfield Public Schools has seen an uptick in enrollment from Ukrainian refugees as the Russian invasion continues.

The Westfield public school district has opened its doors to dozens of Ukrainian refugee students as more than 4 million people have fled the country that remains engulfed in war.

“What we’re seeing is predominantly Ukrainian families coming to Westfield through various ways,” said Denise Ruszala. “Some have family ties, some are coming as refugee status, and others are coming based on placements from the various locations that are welcoming immigrants into the country.”

Ruszala oversees Westfield’s English learning program in the district. She told Western Mass News that they have seen a huge uptick in student refugee enrollment, particularly from Ukraine, over the past month and a half.

“We are receiving them weekly, and they need to be enrolled in school in order to receive any types of Mass. health and services, so families are coming in and enrolling their children right away,” Ruszala said.

She told us that the district is constantly working with these refugee families, alongside a translator, to see what basic needs they might need. They have provided welcome bags to student refugees to help them feel more comfortable in their new environment.

“We, as a district, have to do the best that we can for them and provide them a path to be successful with their educational path,” said Westfield Public Schools Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski.

He told us the last time they saw this influx of refugees was following the devastating hurricane that tore through Puerto Rico in 2017, and he does not see the number dropping anytime soon.

“We actually just received word this morning that there will be three more families arriving this week, so to date, we’re up to about 67 and we do expect more to come,” Czaporowski said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we reached 100.”

The district has also given additional trauma training to its teachers as they have witnessed many students struggle with previous alarming experiences.

“We’re really just trying to make them feel welcome, happy, comfortable, and the academics we’ll take care of as they become more confident in being in this school setting,” Ruszala told us.