I haven’t posted anything on the Haitian refugee issue lately, so thought this article from the Boston Globe would serve as an update. As is often the case, be sure to check the comments because they are often much more interesting than the story itself.
In the past month or so, hundreds of children from the Caribbean’s poorest nation have enrolled in local schools, challenging teachers to provide support for children struggling to learn English, to adapt to winter, and to make sense of what has become of their lives.
Boston public schools have enrolled at least 99 students from Haiti since the massive earthquake left more than 200,000 dead, some 300,000 injured, and 1 million homeless, according to government estimates. By last week, at least 98 students from Haiti had registered in Brockton, 36 students began classes in Randolph, and 11 were studying in Somerville.
All the districts, though already overcrowded, expect to receive more students in the coming months.
“These are wonderful children who are remarkably resilient, but they need special attention,’’ said Elie Jean-Louis, principal of the Charles H. Taylor Elementary School in Mattapan, where at least 25 Haitian students have enrolled since the earthquake. “They may not understand what they have been through and don’t know what emotions they are carrying inside.’’
Despite the additional financial burdens, state officials have said no money is available to help schools, some of which have had to hire Haitian Creole-speaking staff, offer additional counseling, and open new classes.
School officials said they do not check the immigration status of students and are required to enroll any child whose guardian or relative shows a driver’s license or another document that proves they live in the district. They said some of the students were born in the United States and are US citizens, while others are here on a tourist visa.
In a memo sent to schools last month, Mitchell D. Chester, commissioner of the state Elementary and Secondary Education Department, advised superintendents that “a school-aged child or youth displaced by the earthquake in Haiti and who is now residing in the USA as a doubled-up or homeless unaccompanied youth has the right to enroll immediately in the district of residence.’’
A district would follow the same procedures it would with a child displaced by a domestic natural disaster, Chester said.
Asked whether state officials would offer financial help to districts getting the most students from Haiti, JC Considine, a spokesman for Chester, said he is “not aware of any additional state financial assistance for schools that are enrolling Haitian refugees.’’
Many of those schools already have large populations of Haitian-born students, and they say they are doing their best, despite their limited resources.
In Randolph, Superintendent Richard H. Silverman said the additional students have come as the district faces a budget shortfall of more than $2 million, has cut every school program by at least 10 percent, and plans to eliminate as many as 15 teaching positions. He said each new student costs the district about $10,000.
“We don’t have sufficient funds to operate appropriately as it is, and we’re already in real danger of making significant and damaging cuts to the system,’’ Silverman said. “But we have the obligation to meet the needs of any student who lives in Randolph and comes to our doors, and we’ll do that.’’
At Ashfield Middle School in Brockton, principal Barbara Lovell has received at least 29 new Haitian students since the earthquake, doubling the size of some of the English immersion classes.
Lovell has had to open new classrooms in a modular building, bring special education teachers into classes, and ask teachers to work extra hours as they try to serve students with different needs.
“This is very difficult,’’ she said. “The entire school has seen an impact. It’s taxing, tiring, and exhausting for a lot of teachers. The teachers are terrific, but when you’re translating and helping students who don’t speak English, it’s hard. They’re not trained for that.’’
This article reminded me of the comment we received from Winooski, VT recently where a parent said the overload of refugees in that town was keeping his/her child from moving ahead with his education. May I suggest homeschooling!
For more on Haitian refugees visit our Haiti category, here.