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NYC grapples with influx of new asylum-seeking students

As New York City grapples with how to better support the influx of students from asylum-seeking families from South American countries, schools are looking for more bilingual educators and social workers.

They also try to provide clothes and food to families in need.

But getting there is not easy. At least 5,500 new students living in shelters have registered, who officials say are largely newcomer immigrants, although their immigration status is not tracked by the Department of Education. Given the additional students, schools should receive, at a minimum, $34 million in additional funding, Comptroller Brad Lander said Tuesday.

Before the start of this school year, officials expected around 1,000 children to enroll, although they expected that number to rise. Now, with nearly six times as many newcomer students arriving, officials are scrambling to address a range of challenges at the school level, including a shortage of Spanish-speaking staff.

“There are no easy answers here. We are all very clear on that,” Chancellor David Banks told reporters on Tuesday at a press conference at PS 16 in the Bronx, which has recently welcomed several asylum seekers to its school. “We’re finding it out as we go and doing our best.”

The influx of students, many of whom have high needs, comes as schools had already faced funding cuts due to projected declining enrolment. Officials have pledged emergency funding for schools seeing a surge of new students, but some schools say they are not yet receiving additional support, Lander said. Brooklyn’s PS 124, which enrolled 35 new migrant students, added a temporary guidance counselor but received no new funding or staff, such as another bilingual educator, according to Lander’s statement.

PS 16, where the chancellor visited on Tuesday, now has a psychologist trainee and a new English as a new language teacher, Lander said.

Banks said the school recently welcomed 39 new students living in temporary housing, though the city is not verifying whether those students are part of the influx of asylum seekers.

Schools will likely face more challenges when trying to meet the diverse needs of newcomer immigrant students, especially if the number of refugee claimant students continues to rise.

Need for more bilingual education

Some schools that welcome many new students find it difficult to provide instruction in Spanish. At PS 33 in Chelsea, parents reported that their children were struggling to understand lessons, reported the New York Post.

Lander thinks more resources are needed, and he’s asking the Education Department to immediately release an additional $34 million for schools that have opened their doors to migrant students. But that might be a conservative estimate. The figure excludes preschool programs, as well as costs associated with any student newly identified as disabled, according to his office.

Education Department spokesman Nathaniel Styer said the city has so far distributed $25 million to schools that have seen an increase in new students, in addition to the $50 million distributed. schools that appealed for the budgets they received over the summer. Lander’s office noted that the Education Department has not responded to requests for its funding plan for migrant students, and it’s unclear how that $25 million will be spent.

Typically, schools that have enrolled more students than the department forecast receive more funding in the winter as part of the city’s “mid-year adjustment” process, but the late timing of that money additional staff makes it difficult for school leaders to hire staff when needs are more immediate.

“These children – who have low English proficiency, varying degrees of academic readiness, possible special educational needs and extreme trauma to overcome – need significant emotional academic and social support,” said Lander in a statement.

Students learning English are entitled to Traditional English as the new language of instruction, which means their lessons are in English, but they receive additional support and translation assistance in and out of class. Their families can also choose between bilingual programs or bilingual education, but most city schools lack such programs, according to data from last school year.

Carolyne Quintana, vice chancellor of the Department of Education for teaching and learning, said the city is creating transitional bilingual programs in schools as needed, in response to the influx of newcomer students. . These programs gradually increase the time students receive instruction in English, she said.

“The goal of the programming is to support students in their native language as they transition into acquiring English language instruction,” Quintana said at Tuesday’s press conference.

Ministry officials did not provide further details on how the ministry is creating these new programs or where they are being created. A spokesperson said they add teachers to schools as needed, based on the school’s language needs. Faced with a shortage of bilingual educators, the city recently announced the hiring of teachers from the Dominican Republic.

Advocates pointed out that New York schools have long struggled to help students learn English as a new language. Over the past decade, the city has failed to comply with a state-issued corrective action plan focused on students learning English as a new language. For example, the city has not provided the services required by law to all bilingual students with disabilities, largely because there are not enough trained bilingual educators.

In a letter to the city last year, the state said it was “appalled” by the continued lack of bilingual programs for students learning English.

Hire bilingual social workers

Education officials and advocates have pointed out that asylum-seeking students likely struggle with many different stressors: leaving home and loved ones, learning to speak a new language, and acclimating to a new country. In his Tuesday remarks, Banks said he recently encountered a student who nearly drowned while crossing the United States.

“If you take the time, and we really think about the level of trauma that a lot of these young people have had to go through, just to get here… it’s an opportunity to stand up for everything that we’ve always said we’re about” , Banks said.

Of the approximately 3,100 guidance counselors who work for New York City public schools, approximately 10% are bilingual, according to a February municipal report. Out of 1,900 social workers, almost 13% are bilingual, which means that there would be one social worker for every 580 students learning English as a new language. The report did not specify the languages ​​spoken by these staff members. About 14% of the city’s students are learning English as a new language.

Advocates often report that the students they work with do not have access to a counselor or social worker who speaks their native language.

Banks said the education department is currently recruiting more Spanish-speaking social workers. Officials did not say how many they were looking to hire.

Coordinate donations and other supplies

Many of the new students need basic supplies, such as food and clothing, while their families settle in.

City officials plan to create “Borough Response Teams,” which will “hold food and clothing drives, resource fairs, and listening sessions/focus groups across the city,” according to a flyer shared with the city’s parent councils, asking people to register to join.

The teams “will help organize fundraisers to support our new New Yorkers, leveraging the incredible generosity of our communities,” Banks said Tuesday, but neither he nor the flyer elaborated further on what these teams will do.

Some parent councils have already started collecting donations for families in need.

The parent council overseeing District 2 in Manhattan sent out an email Tuesday asking people to donate or purchase items from Amazon’s wishlists that have been requested by various schools in the district. Schools are requesting warm clothes and shoes, underwear, toiletries and snacks to distribute to families in need.

Lupe Hernandez, a member of this parent council, is also a member of the new Manhattan Borough Response Team and has helped coordinate donations. The parent council has always collected items for schools that enroll many students living in nearby shelters, but those same schools are now seeing a surge of newcomer immigrant students, she said.

Its new ‘borough response’ team is still figuring out how it will support families, but volunteers are brainstorming ideas, including mirroring a plan in the Bronx to host a fair-like event with booths that provide a variety of supports. , such as health services, and fun activities for new families, she says.

“I think the goal is to try to provide as many comprehensive services in one place, as well as providing uplifting fun for families and children,” Hernandez said.

Alex Zimmerman contributed.

Reema Amine is a journalist covering New York City schools with a focus on state politics and English language learners. Contact Reema at [email protected]

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