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Schools face big challenges accommodating migrants who've crossed the border


Cities across the country are struggling to accommodate tens of thousands of young people who recently crossed the southern border. The challenges extend to public schools that are trying to provide education for these new international students without additional state or federal funds. Colorado Public Radio's Jenny Brundin reports.

JENNY BRUNDIN, BYLINE: Last fall, several Colorado school districts asked the state for help. As the pace of migrant children enrolling accelerated, some weren't prepared. The Colorado Department of Education's Victory Molina.

VICTORY MOLINA: They're taking regular-sized classrooms, and they're splitting them in half and putting double the amount of kids in there because they're bursting at the seams with the amount of students now.

BRUNDIN: Denver Public Schools is averaging 200 new arrivals a week. Districts have well-established practices for welcoming newcomers, but Amanda Clayton of the Adams 12 district north of Denver says 800 new students swamped them.

AMANDA CLAYTON: We need to hire more staff, buy more materials, make sure we have building space for them, and all of that comes with budget asks.

BRUNDIN: At least half the newcomers arrived after the state's official student count day in October. That means no state funding for those students. Schools are already short on mental health counselors and, says Commissioner of Education Susana Cordova...

SUSANA CORDOVA: Because of the teacher shortage, it's going to be very difficult and challenging to recruit bilingual teachers to schools to work with this population.

BRUNDIN: Recently, English-language educators from about 20 Colorado districts rolled up their sleeves and formed a newcomer cohort to share strategies and ideas.

IGNACIO: Next year...

BRUNDIN: Today, some line the walls of this high school classroom in Lafayette, near Boulder, to hear from students like Ignacio from Mexico.

IGNACIO: My favorite class is algebra and English. My hardest class is algebra.

BRUNDIN: The educators take notes. The school does a full intake session to understand the kids' backgrounds. Schedules include two periods of learning English along with other classes like history, all in English.

VALERIA: (Speaking Spanish).

BRUNDIN: Another student, Valeria, says even her teachers, who don't speak Spanish write key words on the board in Spanish. These students' schools requested we use only their first names to protect their privacy and because many escaped very dangerous situations in their home countries. Every week, the English-language teachers send out tips to all the other teachers in the school. There are community liaisons, informal Latino parent groups, wellness rooms and a new offering, Cafecito, where kids can meet for group therapy. Here's teacher Lauren Jaeger.

LAUREN JAEGER: We also do lunch and homework help. And it's just a place to hang out, a place to get help with algebra tests or whatever...

BRUNDIN: District officials asked the students for their suggestions.

ALVARO: (Speaking Spanish).

BRUNDIN: Alvaro, from Guatemala, says he wants to study mechanics to help his uncle. A district official says they'll find a way to get him to the district's tech center to take classes.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER #1: Things to take back to your own district.

BRUNDIN: Back at district headquarters, educators share tips for tackling multiple challenges. How do they assess the new students? What if they're homeless? What if they've lost their transcript in the jungle on the way here? Do they repeat classes?

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER #2: Because that's a struggle for our kids. They're like, I've taken biology, and you want me to take it again.

BRUNDIN: These Colorado educators say they're committed to helping every child who enrolls. But if the unprecedented surge continues, some officials say it's not sustainable. For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "RISING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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