For many New York kids, summer break means a summer job. Or summer school. Or hanging out in the city with friends. For 13-year-old Vanessa, this summer was spent selling fruit snacks outside a subway stop in midtown Manhattan with her mother. Mango slices, watermelon chunks and cucumber sticks. Vanessa arrived recently from Ecuador. She's in the midst of seeking asylum in the U.S. Her mother, Alejandra, is undocumented and asked that their last name be withheld, in order to protect their family back home. "They are killing people there. There are kidnappings, rapes. I had to take the kids out."
Vanessa's routine in the city, is about to change: summer is over, and she's headed off to school. She's starting the 8th grade, joining around 20,000 other migrant children who have enrolled in New York public schools this month. Part of the wave of migration that has come to the city in recent years: around 100,000 people since last Spring alone.
Officials have reminded schools that they must accept all children, regardless of their immigration status. And they have been encouraging migrant families to send their kids. For many families, enrolling a member who could otherwise be working is a financial sacrifice, but one that is well worth it. "It's hard for us" admits Alejandra. "It's hard for a lot of families, New York is expensive." But she says she doesn't want her kid out on the streets with her. She herself didn't get to go to school in Ecuador when she was a child. "Maybe if I'd had that opportunity", she reflects, "I'd be in a better place today."
For all the excitement, some families also told NPR they are apprehensive. On a sweltering morning in September, immigrant families are lined up outside the Department of Education offices in Queens. They're trying to find out where to send their kids. Jorge Delgado Vega arrived to New York just three days ago, from Ecuador. One of the first things the family did, was enroll Delgado in high school. He'll be starting 11th grade in the next few days. "I feel very happy," says Delgado. "It's a new opportunity." But he says he's also nervous. He doesn't know what school he'll be going to yet, and hopes it's a bilingual one. "I still don't know English very well. I don't know know how people will react. This makes me nervous."
He's not alone in his concern. Some New York parents say they are worried about the school system's capacity to handle a large influx of students who are English as a new language (ENL). "Compassion dictates that you want to try and figure out, 'they're here now, what are we going to do with these kids that are here?' " says Maude Maron. She herself is the parent of four kids in New York schools. She's also an elected leader for a Manhattan Community Education Council, an advisory body made up of parents and residents. "But there should also be the question of, what is the impact on the children that are already here? Kids who have suffered many times over a year of learning loss from COVID shut downs. These are kids who are already very far behind. And now they're gonna have classrooms, filled to the brim with migrant kids that teachers are unprepared and in some cases incapable of teaching."
Maron says she hasn't heard a word from the Department of education on how to address the situation at hand. She worries that New York schools can't handle so many foreign students. Not with a teacher shortage, and only 3,400 English as a new language teachers on staff.
Melissa Aviles Ramos, chief of staff for the New York Department of Education, begs to differ. "We can handle it. We always have handled it. This is a massive increase that we've [never] seen before, and it is not without challenge. this is a real opportunity for our teachers, are admin and all of our staff to really step up and not only accept, but embrace the difference in language and cultures."
NPR spoke to teachers throughout the city. "The department is vastly under resourced for everything", said Christopher, who asked that we withhold his last name, out of concern his employer will retaliate. He teaches at a school in Brooklyn. He says the new arrivals, are a joy to be around. "Every kid we've had so far has been incredibly eager to learn. They just want to be kids. They want to be children."
Christopher thinks the kids are being scapegoated for a crisis that existed long before they arrived. "I mean you could take all of these new students out, and there's still ... there's no money."
Other teachers told NPR, this situation could bring a lot of growth to New York schools. "This is an opportunity to also diversify our schools", says Rosie Frascella. "New York City is one of the most segregated school districts in the country." Frascella is a parent of two, and an English as a New Language teacher. "There's a really strong need in the United States for us to be multilingual. Most of the world is multilingual."
In the meantime, far removed from the debates, standing in the midst of midtown Manhattan's traffic, Vanessa, the 13-year-old Ecuadoran, says she's dreaming of becoming a lawyer one day.
But for now, she's just happy to go back to school. It was a long summer for her. And she's ready for a break.
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
New York City schools have opened their doors this year to around 20,000 children who are recently arrived migrants. Public schools must accept all children regardless of immigration status. But some parents wonder if the city's school system can handle so many new students. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: For many New York kids, summer means a summer job or summer school. For 13-year-old Vanessa, this summer was spent selling fruit snacks outside a subway station in Manhattan with her mother.
VANESSA: (Speaking Spanish).
GARSD: She says people out here aren't bad, and she's been learning English. Vanessa is part of a new wave of migration to New York. About a hundred thousand people have arrived in the city since spring 2022. Her mother, Alejandra, asked that their last name be withheld to protect their family who remained in Ecuador.
ALEJANDRA: (Speaking Spanish).
GARSD: "Back there," she says, "they are killing people. There's kidnappings, rapes." Alejandra is undocumented. Vanessa, her daughter, is applying for asylum. And now she's started eighth grade in Brooklyn. The large influx of migrant children coming into schools has caused some division among New York parents.
MAUDE MARON: Compassion dictates that you want to try to figure out, like, they're here now. What are we going to do with these kids that are here?
GARSD: Maude Maron is a parent of four. She's also an elected leader on a Manhattan educational advisory board.
MARON: But there should also be a question of, what is the impact going to have on kids that have suffered many times over a year of learning loss from COVID shutdowns and pandemic? And now they're going to have classrooms filled to the brim with migrant kids that teachers are unprepared and, in some cases, incapable of teaching.
GARSD: Maron says she hasn't heard from the Department of Education on how they plan to address the situation at hand. She worries that New York schools can't handle so many foreign students, not with only 3,400 teachers dedicated to instructing English language learners. But Melissa Aviles-Ramos, chief of staff for the New York Department of Education, says New York schools are prepared for this.
MELISSA AVILES-RAMOS: We can handle it. We always have handled it. This is a massive increase that we've ever seen before, and it is not without challenge. This is a real opportunity for our teachers, our admin and all of our staff to really step up.
GARSD: The department has hired 188 English-as-a-new-language teachers and is looking to hire more. NPR spoke to teachers throughout the city who said it's barely enough.
CHRISTOPHER: The Department of Education is vastly under-resourced for everything.
GARSD: Christopher asked that we withhold his last name because he's concerned he'll get in trouble for speaking out. He says the new students are a joy to be around.
CHRISTOPHER: Every kid that we've had so far has been incredibly eager to learn. They just want to be kids. They're children.
GARSD: He worries that they're being scapegoated for a crisis that existed long before they arrived.
CHRISTOPHER: I mean, you could take all of these new students out and there's still - there's no money.
GARSD: Other teachers told NPR the situation could enrich New York schools.
ROSIE FRASCELLA: This is an opportunity to also diversify our schools. New York City is one of the most segregated school districts in the country.
GARSD: Rosie Frascella has a child in elementary school and is an ENL teacher herself in the city. She says it's challenging, but...
FRASCELLA: There's a really strong need in the United States for us to be multilingual. Most of the world is multilingual, and people from the United States really lag behind in that respect.
GARSD: In the meantime, far removed from the debates, standing in the midst of Midtown Manhattan's traffic, Vanessa, the 13-year-old Ecuadoran, says she's dreaming of becoming a lawyer one day.
VANESSA: (Speaking Spanish).
ALEJANDRA: (Speaking Spanish).
GARSD: But for now, she's just happy to go back to school. It's been a long summer out here, and she's ready for a break.
Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.