portlandpublicschoolsEmpowerment Across Communities
Portland, Maine

About Our Project

We are increasing mental health access and intercultural connections for immigrant and refugee students who need emotional supports, and building the cultural responsiveness of our school social workers, teachers, school-based health center staff, and community providers through intensive staff development. We work closely with immigrant and refugee families to empower them through on-going engagement activities that strengthen families and cultural communities. Student identity support groups welcome and sustain new arrivals. For more information, view our poster.

Demographic Data


Our Work

Our large, diverse partnership collaborates to increase the quality and number of services available to the 1500 students who are identified as English Language Learners (ELL) in the Portland Public Schools. The partners believe strongly that this project, Empowerment Across Communities, has enabled them to break out of their organizational silos and join together to strengthen their services for the benefit of the target population. The project strategy is based on an assumption that the project will increase mental health access by training mental health professionals on culturally responsive practices. Once the mental health professionals receive intensive training in the cultures of students from other countries, then they will be able to work with immigrant and refugee children more comfortably and competently.

Our Partners

Portland Public Schools’ Multilingual and Multicultural Center
Center for Grieving Children
City of Portland’s Student Health Centers
Portland Health Division Office of Minority Health
Community Counseling Center
Maine Medical Center, Primary Care
• Possibilities, Inc.
• Safe and Drug Free Schools Program, Portland Public Schools
Spurwink Services
Language Access for New Americans (LANA)
University of Southern Maine School of Social Work

What We Are Learning:

The Portland Approach
Our definition of care (pdf)
Caring Across Communities Collaborative Framework for Services (pdf)
Caring Across Communities Collaborative Service Providers (pdf)

Designing Training on Culturally Responsive Practices

Interpreter Training: Design, Development, and Implementation

Community Engagement

Immigrant and Refugee Community Conversations
Workshops for Immigrant and Refugee Parents
Elements of Successful Collaboration

Success Stories:

Building a Bridge to Understanding and Success

By the time three young Somali boys were called into their principal’s office for a disciplinary hearing—they were frightened, their teachers were frustrated and classmates annoyed…

From Fear and Grief to a New Life: Sara Finds Her Way

If Sara knew how to ask for help, her grief, fear and anger might not have brought her so close to the edge of crisis. But by the time Portland Public Schools’ Caring Across Communities staff met her, Sara’s life was in complete turmoil…

Healing Invisible Wounds

At night, when 11-year-old Khadijo lay in bed, wounds that the daylight hid became painfully apparent. Khadijo would cry as feelings of grief and loss swept over her. Memories of her home in Somalia were fraught with feelings of hunger, illness and violence. She was confused by her new home in the United States, unable to speak English, and baffled by the academic expectations placed on her. Khadijo felt stressed and alone, fighting feelings of vulnerability as she tried desperately not to let on to anyone how afraid she really was…

For more information about this project, contact Grace Valenzuela at valeng@portlandschools.org