US Schools Brace for Flood of Central American Immigrant Students

Saturday, 26 Jul 2014 01:16 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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At least 30,000 migrant Central American students are heading to classrooms across the country this fall, bringing low levels of education that will lower classroom averages, and overwhelm already struggling school districts, educators are warning.

The Obama administration announced earlier this month that some 30,340 foreign youths and children had been distributed, with the bulk, 4,280, remaining near where they crossed the southern border in Texas, reports The Daily Caller.

Other high numbers of students headed to Virginia, which received 2,234 youths, Maryland, with 2,205, North Carolina, with 1,191, and New Jersey, getting 1,504.

Even more students may be showing up in the classrooms, with more than 100,000 migrants being distributed nationwide.

In many cases, such students have "very, very limited amounts of education [and] in some cases, they cannot count to 10,” Caroline Woodason, assistant director for student support at the public schools in Dalton, Ga., told The Dalton Daily Citizen. "They can’t turn on a computer. They’ve never even seen a computer. Also, they, in most cases, cannot speak English or Spanish."

The students instead speak Mam or another language that is specific to their home regions, and Woodason said there is no way they can participate in U.S. history, biology, or other high school courses without special preparation.

By law, high school students may remain in school until they are 22 years old. Dalton officials have formed a "Newcomer Academy" at one school to help deal with the Central American students' challenges. To qualify, students must prove to be non-proficient in English and three years behind academically.

Education specialist Robin Hambly in Fairfax, Va., told The Washington Post  "teachers [are] dealing with children not just learning English but years below expected grade/achievement level." Early this year, her school district had 5,192 Central American students, up 22 percent since 2011.

And many of the students are facing more than just academic challenges, said Hamby.

The youths are escaping harrowing journeys to come north to escape lives filled with gang violence and poverty in their home countries, and are struggling.

"These kids were homesick and heartbroken," said Hamby.

"There's no way a [foreign] child is going to be able to come to school ready and able to learn if we don’t address some of the other issues they’re facing,” Debra Duardo, executive director for human services for the Los Angeles Unified School District, told the Chicago Tribune

But educators are finding that the foreign-born students are, in most cases, appreciative of their opportunity to learn and find a safe haven in America's classrooms.

"I haven't learned much here, but know with the school I will learn," Marlon, a 16-year-old Honduran who arrived in February, told the Tribune. The boy's name was withheld because of his age, and he now lives with relatives in the New Orleans area.

Speaking Spanish, Marlon said that so far, he hasn't "learned much here, but know with the school I will learn. I think it's good to learn English here. If the judge allows me to stay, I can get a job if I speak English, and opportunity."

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