PARMA, Ohio (WJW) – As students head back to the classroom, some in Parma face a unique challenge.

The district superintendent said they welcomed nearly 130 Ukrainian refugees, many still finding their footing in a new country and now new schools.

This week marks six months since Russia invaded Ukraine.

“Really trying to wrap our arms around that community and the students that have joined us from Ukraine,” said Charles Smialek, Superintendent of Parma City Schools. “I personally can’t imagine going through the transition of coming to a different country, a different language, all under pretty traumatic circumstances.”

Parma is home to Ukrainian Village, a community resource Smialek said they will utilize to help ease the transition for students.

The superintendent said the district will participate in the Ukrainian Village Parade to celebrate the culture of Ukraine this Saturday starting at 11 a.m. at Grantwood and ending at Ukrainian Heritage Park.

Smialek said the new Ukrainian students are widely distributed across school buildings.

One of the biggest challenges facing both students and teachers is communication. The district is working to hire at least one more translator.

“We have EL services but to say we have one translator for every student is not accurate,” he said. “We have EL teachers that are doing the best they can to service our students, but it’s difficult to overcome that when students are coming to us with pretty limited English skills.”   

In the meantime, the focus is on welcoming students who have already been through traumatic experiences.

Smialek said many of the families enrolled are living with their mothers or extended family members. Most of the men, he said, stayed behind to fight in the war.

“You’re trying to focus on getting a new life here and clearly your heart, your thoughts, your minds are with your homeland and what’s happening in your family that is still there,” said Smialek. “So it’s a really difficult, traumatic transition, but it’s something that we and our community are trying to make as peaceful and positive as possible.”