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.”