Migrant children see hope in the country’s largest school system
After the hardships of their trip from South America to the United States, Marialena Coromoto and her 13-year-old daughter, Neimarys, see hope in the American school system.
Days before her first day of classes, Neimarys described finally feeling at peace after months of uncertainty. The young migrant from Venezuela, sitting on a park bench near the Queens Hotel in New York, where she is staying with her mother, proudly showed off some of her English basics – “Hello. How are you?” – and a colorful backpack with notebooks, pencils and a ruler that had been given to him.
“It’s all behind us now,” Neimarys said in Spanish, speaking of their long journey to the border with Mexico. “It was not an American dream but a nightmare.”
When New York public schools reopened on September 8, Neimarys was among more than 1,700 school-aged children who had arrived with asylum-seeking families since April, according to a city official briefed on the response.
“I’m excited because I’m in a country that will help me become the professional I want to be,” said Neimarys, who is undecided about a career but hopes to one day return to Venezuela and buy a house.
Neimarys and his 31-year-old mother are among a wave of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers arriving in New York in recent months. Most fled economic insecurity and political upheaval in Central and South America.
Now public schools are scrambling to find staff to support newcomers and prepare for students who have experienced trauma.
“We want every child to have the chance to thrive, grow and prosper, no matter their zip code, no matter their ethnicity, no matter how they got here,” New York Mayor Eric Adams said at a Bronx elementary school on the first day of class.
“This is not a Hollywood script, this is the life of human beings”: the mayor of New York
The Democratic mayor clashed with Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott for transporting hundreds of migrants to New York. Texas also took the bus recently arrived migrants awaiting immigration court proceedings in Washington, DC and Chicago.
Some undocumented migrants and asylum seekers arrived on Texas-chartered buses to underscore what Abbott called the Biden administration’s failure to secure the border.
Others – like Neimarys and her mother – came to New York on flights from San Antonio and other towns near the southern border. In some cases, non-profit organizations or relatives cover their airfare. New York is using more than a dozen hotels as emergency shelters, city officials said.
More than 1,700 of the new arrivals are school-age children, according to city officials. Most face language barriers, homelessness, financial hardship and emotional trauma.
“I had to stay strong,” Neimarys said of the northward passage through isolated jungle and rugged mountains. “My mum was crying and I was encouraging her to keep moving. I knew we couldn’t give up and stay where we were.
Pan American International High School is in one of six school districts in the city that receives most of the school-aged children of the summer migration wave.
The campus, with an enrollment of about 350 last year, is in Elmhurst, Queens, one of New York’s most diverse neighborhoods. Pan American markets itself as a “diverse learning community of recently immigrated Latinx scholars,” according to its bilingual website.
At least 75 new students have enrolled this year and almost all of them are the children of recently arrived asylum seekers, Principal Waleska Velez said.
“We are ready to support these students not only academically, but also with social and emotional support,” Velez said.
Already facing massive budget cuts, declining enrollment and a shortage of teachers, school administrations are now looking to recruit certified bilingual teachers and other support staff to cope with the influx of Spanish-speaking children. from migrant families.
“Think about the fact that we’ve cut a few hundred million dollars from our education budget and now we have kids with special needs,” the New York Assembly said. Catalina Cruz, immigrant from Colombia and former undocumented student.
“These are children with serious trauma, families with serious needs and we need to invest in them and the rest of our city to make sure our children, our teachers and our community are able to welcome them. »
Last month, the Adams administration launched the Open Arms project to reach migrant families in shelters and help them enroll their children in school. The project also provides language support, legal services, transportation and school supplies.
“We are showing these families that they are not alone in this situation and we are ensuring that our schools are ready to do the same,” Chancellor of the Department for Education, David Banks said. “I can’t even begin to imagine the level of challenge and trauma that so many of these families have gone through.”
Adams on Wednesday called the influx of asylum seekers arriving in New York from the southern border “unprecedented.”
“Since May, this administration alone has safely and efficiently provided shelter, health care, education and a host of other services to more than 11,000 people, primarily from Central America and South America, who are looking for a better life,” Adams said. in a press release.
The majority are families with children. The Ministry of Education is accelerating calls for support from schools in the city.
“We certainly have concerns about the quality and type of systems we can put in place to provide truly comprehensive support for students,” said Alan Cheng, district superintendent of the Department of Education for nearly 50 high schools. .
“The challenge will be how to ensure the continuity of these services. How to ensure that these people are not forgotten after the first week or the first month?
Neimarys and his mother, originally from Falcón state in northwestern Venezuela, had lived in Ecuador for five years. On May 14, they set out on their journey north with a group of friends and family. On June 17, Neimarys and her mother crossed the Rio Grande to the United States.
“I want her to learn a lot and open her mind,” Marialena Coromoto said of enrolling her daughter in a public school in the city. “I want her to put behind everything we’ve been through.”
Neimarys, carrying her backpack full of school supplies a few days before classes start, is ready for her next trip.
“I don’t speak English and that will make it difficult,” she said of the upcoming school year, “but I’m confident I can handle it.”