Migrant children see hope in the nation’s largest school system

A few days before her first day of class, Neimarys explained that she felt a sense of peace after the uncertainty of the past few months. The young Venezuelan immigrant, sitting on a park bench near the hotel where he is staying with his mother in Queens, New York, proudly displayed some basic knowledge of the English language: “Hi. How are you?” — and a colorful backpack with a notebook, pencil and ruler gifted to her.

“It’s all behind us now,” Neimarys said in Spanish, speaking of the long journey to the Mexican border. “It wasn’t the American dream, it was a nightmare.”

When New York City’s public schools reopened on September 8, Neimarys was among 1,400 migrant children enrolled for the start of the school year, according to city officials.

“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 home.

Neimarys and her 31-year-old mother are part of a wave of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers who have arrived in New York in recent months. Most fled the insecurity and political turmoil in Central and South America.

Now public schools are looking for staff to support newcomers and prepare for traumatized students.

“We want every child to have the opportunity to grow and thrive and thrive, no matter their zip code, no matter their ethnicity, no matter how they got here,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said at an elementary school in the Bronx. first day of classes

“Those 1,400 students would be treated with the same love and nurturing as those students raised in this education system.”

“I knew we couldn’t give up”

The Democratic mayor has clashed with Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott over busing hundreds of migrants to New York. Texas has also taken the bus Migrants awaiting immigration court proceedings have recently arrived in Washington, DC and Chicago.
Some undocumented migrants and asylum seekers arrived on buses chartered by Texas to highlight what Abbott said was 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 cities near the southern border. In some cases, non-profits or family members cover the airfare. New York is using more than a dozen hotels as emergency shelters, city officials said.

More than 1,500 of the new arrivals are school-aged children, according to city officials. Most of them face language barriers, homelessness, financial stress and emotional trauma.

“I had to be strong,” Neimarys said of the trek through the northern jungle and rugged mountains. “My mom would cry and I would encourage her to keep moving. I knew we couldn’t give up and stay where we were.”

Schools try to meet the diverse needs of students

Pan American International High School is in one of six city school districts that host most of the school-age children of the summer migrant surge.
The campus, with an enrollment of about 350 last academic year, is located in Elmhurst, Queens, one of New York’s most diverse neighborhoods. Pan American bills itself as a “diverse learning community of recently immigrated Latino students,” according to its bilingual website.
Texas spends more than $12 million to bus migrants to Washington, DC and New York

At least 75 new students have been enrolled this year and almost all of them are the children of recently arrived asylum seekers, principal Waleska Velez said.

“We are ready to help these students not only with academic support, but also with social and emotional support,” said Velez.

Already faced with budget cuts, reduced enrollment and teacher shortages, school administrations are looking to hire certified bilingual teachers and other support staff to deal with the influx of Spanish-speaking children from migrant families.

“Just think we’ve cut a couple of million dollars from our budget in education and now we have kids coming in with special needs,” said the New York Assemb. Catalina Cruz, Colombian immigrant and undocumented former student.

“These are children with severe trauma, families with severe needs and we need to invest in them and the rest of our city to welcome our children and teachers and community.”

“They’re not alone in this”

Last month, the Adams administration launched Project Open Arms to reach migrant families in shelters and help enroll children in schools. The project also provides language support, legal services, transportation and school supplies.
“We’re showing these families that they’re not alone in this and we’re making sure that our schools are ready to do the same,” said David Banks, chancellor of the Department of Education. “I can’t even begin to imagine the level of challenge and trauma that many of these families have endured.”

Adams on Wednesday called the surge in asylum seekers coming to New York from the southern border “unprecedented.”

“Since May, this administration has single-handedly provided safe and effective shelter, health care, education and other services to more than 11,000 people in Central and South America seeking a better life,” Adams said. in a news release.

The White House is removing potential barriers for immigrants seeking legal status on public benefits

Most of them are families with children. The Department of Education is speeding up the call for help from the city’s schools.

“We certainly have some concerns about how well and what kind of systems we can have in place to provide comprehensive support to students,” said Alan Cheng, district director of the Department of Education’s 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 the northwestern state of Falcón in Venezuela, had been living in Ecuador for the past five years. On the 14th of May, with a group of friends and family members, they started their journey to the north. On June 17, Neimarys and her mother crossed the Rio Grande into the United States.

“I want her to learn a lot and open her mind,” said Marialena Coromoto about enrolling her daughter in a public school in the city. “I want everything we’ve been through to be put behind us.”

Neimarys, carrying a backpack full of school supplies a few days before classes start, is ready for his next trip.

“I don’t speak English and that’s going to make things difficult,” she said of the upcoming school year, “but I’m sure I’ll be able to handle it.”

CNN’s Laura Ly contributed to this report.