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Adamowski: NPS needs $1.2M to deal with immigrant influx

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski speaks to Board of Education members, Thursday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Public Schools needs an additional $1.2 million this year to cover the expense of unexpected immigrant children who aren’t fluent in the English language, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said Thursday.

“We are at a point where we have exhausted all of our current services,” Adamowksi said, working with English Language Learner (ELL) Specialist Helene Becker to spell out the situation to the Board of Education Finance Committee.

NPS has 223 more ELL students than it had a year ago, and most of the new high school students are classified as Students with Limited and/or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE), Becker said. They’re the “unaccompanied minors that you hear about crossing the border coming from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala,” typically with “very low education,” teenagers who have early grade school level learning but must be put in the high schools.

Almost every teen coming through the ELL Welcome Center is a SLIFE student, and 78% of the new Norwalk High ELL students meet the classification, and 82% of the Brien McMahon Students, according to Becker. Adamowski said families are telling Welcome Center personnel that they’ve been released from federal detention centers, and, “I think that is conforming to a new rule or an old rule now being enforced, not to hold children for more than 60 days.”

Since 2013, the ELL population has increased by 59% with no increase in ELL district personnel, Becker said; all of the high school classes appropriate for SLIFE are nearly closed, closed or over capacity. NPS developed a program to help its growing ELL population but now the ESL tutoring rooms are closed, because bilingual aides are assisting in content classes, and the art, music and physical education classes are closed.

“These students need a lot of help to pass their classes,” Becker said. “And then they take an additional course art, music, physical education, so that they’re also mixed with the regular students so that they can learn English from them, and they get involved in the school community.”

“We’re out of we’re just out of resources,” Adamowski said.

References were made to students “sitting around.” Becker said some of them have three instructional support periods.

“We really have to do something right away,” Becker said. “I have teachers lined up to teach six classes. … I’m hoping we can we can hire a several more ESL teachers to handle this situation.”

Not only are they undereducated, but, “an increasing number of children that have experienced trauma,” Becker said. “A lot of these SLIFE students coming from those three countries have experienced terrible, terrible things that adults shouldn’t experience and they’re kids.”

The recent influx is kids from Honduras and Guatemala, who have parents here. But they’ve been raised by their grandparents and their parents are strangers, “that’s part of their trauma,” Becker continued.

Some of the high school students are pregnant because they were raped on their journey north, she said. A bilingual social worker is needed to deal with problems like crying children refusing to go to class.

“We have a big Guatemalan community here,” Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis said. “So that makes sense. But assumptions these kids are leaving because of economic conditions, violence?”

“It’s mostly violence,” Becker explained. Gangs who threaten them, and say things like, ‘If you don’t join this gang, or you don’t carry these drugs for me, I’m going to burn down your house and your family.’ And they’ve done that. They’re not kidding, the gangs are really in control down. It’s terrible. It’s a terrible situation. So then the families leave the next day when that happens.”

“Are we mindful that any of these children could still actively be part of those gangs or recruited locally?” BoE Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek asked.

“We don’t see evidence of that,” Adamowski said. “These are these are folks who are trying to escape that situation. They have not been part of it.”

Stamford and Danbury have also had a big influx, and are up about 300 students, Adamowski said. “Nobody expected the three districts in Fairfield County, no one would expect a spike like that.”

The cost of the influx is estimated at nearly $1.8 million and the proposal for the remainder of this school year is nearly $1.2 million. This factors in the possibility of additional students enrolling, Becker said.

An ELL supervisor is needed to assist with teacher evaluations and professional development, because teachers are reaching out for training, she said.

The additional elementary school ELL staff is based on 50 students per ELL teacher; while Becker said Greenwich was using 30 students per teacher as a “very good ratio,” Adamowksi said Bridgeport and New Haven figure 70 students per teacher.

“I think we would be happy to stick at 50 at this point, given the additional resources that that is going to require,” Adamowski said.

NPS has one interpreter in Central Office, and she’s “constantly overbooked,” Becker said. “My secretary is backup. So, she goes out to the schools to help. We really need more bilingual aids in the schools. Right now, each school shares an aide. So what I’m asking for is that each school has their own aide who can be this parent-like liaison and also support the kids in the classroom.”

The request for $1.2 million does not require Board approval, and “I would anticipate meeting with the mayor again next week,” Adamowski said. “We’ve had one meeting at this already so he’s well aware of it and as concerned about it as we are.”

Board member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell, attending the meeting as a non-Committee member, asked what the prognosis is for SLIFE high school students. “Can they even expect to graduate with a high school diploma? Or do they go to adult ed? Or do we have an 18 to 21 program to help them?”

No on the 18-to-21 program, according to Adamowski.

There’s an intensive summer program, free because it’s paid for by Title III funds, equivalent to a whole credit,” Becker said. NPS qualified for an immigrant grant and is using it to fund a career pathway for ELLS, “so that they can graduate and start realistic careers.”

“We’re in the process of hiring someone now with that grant money,” she said. “And that’s something that I hope will go into the budget for next year. So that the students do have a pathway to work and being productive citizens, you know, things like auto mechanics, the trades really that we feel that might be more appropriate for some of the kids rather than going on to college. I mean, some of them do. We’ve had a history where some of them are able to go into college.”

NPS ELL costs 20191011_00180069

15 comments

JustaTaxPayer October 11, 2019 at 7:43 am

Who couldn’t see this coming? At the rate of the curve how many legal immigrants should we have in Norwalk? oops, maybe some of them are illegal.

Where are our leaders on the impact of this wave on existing citizens who are in need of other services? Or is that counter to the party line to even have such a thought?

Michael Torre October 11, 2019 at 9:15 am

Since this problem is not going away but will increase over time the totality of a solution resulting in positive outcomes must be embraced. A concerted effort to form a coalition of federal, state, municipal and corporate contributors must obtain. The professionals charged each day with helping the families and children from other countries assimilate into American life should not have to worry about funding the effort. These children need continuous, sensible and sensitive input from caring professionals if they are to move forward and away from their frightening early life experiences.

Joanna Cooper October 11, 2019 at 9:36 am

This is a tremendously stressful situation for our schools, all students and the especially tax payers with no end in sight to the influx. However, it is NOT surprising at all! The chart is very telling. It starts to spike six years ago when Harry Rilling took the Office of Mayor. He declared us a sanctuary city—- how benevolent of him. Rilling has worked hard to prepare the way for this influx by pushing for and allowing thousands upon thousands of apartments to be built in this city. So damn many and thinking all this growth and development is so wonderful. Meanwhile jobs weren’t developed at the same rate so we end up filling them with people using section 8 vouchers instead of young professionals and tax paying families. Developers were given huge tax credits and abatements. Planning and zoning failed to crack down on illegal apartments and we have ten people per room. I have witnessed this in my triple A zoned Cranbury neighborhood. We have a house down the street that had thirty people living there for years. Numerous neighbors relentlessly complained and nothing was done so many just moved away. Add to this the grand list has not grown anywhere near enough to support this influx.

Rilling doesn’t seem to comprehend that his policies and practices hugely contributed to this mess. Now we all know that legally and morally we have to support these children. So it’s a math problem… where is the money going to come from Harry Rilling? When are you going to open your mouth and explain this to us tax payers? I see that as your job not the superintendents.

Bobby Lamb October 11, 2019 at 11:44 am

I’m sorry – did a member of our BOE just insinuate that these children are “bad hombres”? Apparently he agrees with the president that people from south of the border are all murders and rapists. This is disgusting from anyone even worse coming from someone who is charged with nurturing and educating school children. And he’s Lisa Brinton’s campaign treasurer! She should immediately ask him to step down. Her response to this incident will be really telling.

MarjorieM October 11, 2019 at 12:41 pm

What about using Title I money? There should be a large increase in Title I funds due to the numbers of children living at poverty levels. These ELL students are also a transient population in NPS. While the numbers show the largest influx in 2014, are these students still in that population? What are the number of students registered who are still living in Norwalk?

Isabelle Hargrove October 11, 2019 at 3:07 pm

Bobby Lamb, or whoever you are, your comment above is way out of line. Enough with using fake outrage for political expediency. I suspect voters are getting tired of being taken for fools who are supposed to jump every time you utter the magic words…

@Nancy – Am I correct to assume that people who post under resident names have been verified when they post constant attacks against others? I think readers deserve to know who they are reading when not anonymous.

Bryan Meek October 11, 2019 at 3:16 pm

No Bobby, I’m mindful of the 30 children in Brentwood Long Island who were murdered for not joining gangs after arriving here and I don’t want the kind of violence here in our schools or city. The reporter left out my comments “Thank God” after the Superintendent said there wasn’t an issue.

The people who need to resign their offices are the one’s who helped to create this humanitarian crisis, who will not fund it, and will then try to politicize it as they are doing now. Attacking the only people trying to do something about it by taking statements taken out of context for their own personal political gain on the backs of these poor children is a new low for some.

John Miller October 11, 2019 at 4:07 pm

An excellent and informative article but disturbing. It’s just a shame that some choose to use it for partisan politics rather than offering useful solutions.

Steve Mann October 11, 2019 at 5:07 pm

Wow, i for one would hate to think many readers could draw the conclusion that anything in this article, quoted or otherwise, could be construed as hate based.

Bobby, in what framework would you be comfortable discussing the not-so-surprising rapid influx of undereducated, socially challenged students that is stretching BOE resources to their limit and is bound to be detrimental to locally raised students and will almost certainly have negative economic repercussions to every Norwalk ratepayer?

Joe October 11, 2019 at 7:22 pm

These children are a short bus ride from neighboring luxury school systems in New Canaan, Westport, Darien,
Wilton and Greenwich. Forty students should go to each town.

This is not a Norwalk issue. This is a state issue, where’s Duff and Lamont.

This is a national, interstate issue. Where’s Himes, Murph and Blumenthal.

Come on common council … come on mayor … help Norwalk for once.

Tysen Canevari October 11, 2019 at 7:57 pm

I think Bobby should adopt them all and pay for them. Its a shame that wwe have to accept this financial burden

MarjorieM October 12, 2019 at 12:20 pm

I have done some research. In the past, more than 20 years ago, there were pull-out classes of 6-8 English language deficient students. The teachers were called Language Development specialists. The students learned the language in a controlled environment and did quite well. I found out that a grant paid for these teachers, perhaps Title 1. This is a model that might allow more ELL students to participate. Perhaps thinking “outside the box” would help reduce the large cost of additional teachers and help these children at the same time?

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