Long Island school districts with rising numbers of immigrant students — many from poverty-stricken Central American countries — need more resources to help them learn English and flexibility in meeting graduation requirements, panelists at a Roosevelt symposium said Monday.
Administrators at the forum, which drew dozens of district residents and educators from school systems in Nassau and Suffolk counties, questioned the effectiveness of a “one-size-fits-all” educational approach, because the newcomers require extra help to catch up academically and overcome emotional trauma from perilous journeys to the United States’ border with Mexico.
“We must develop as a state a policy framework that supports a comprehensive system of flexible learning pathways,” Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said in the keynote speech, saying she favors the use of “individual learning plans” that adapt benchmarks for different students.
Teachers and parents also said more outreach is needed to relatives and sponsors of the children, who have come to the United States since 2012 as part of a migration wave of unaccompanied minors, largely from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Many who were resettled with relatives or sponsors on the Island are in their late teens and don’t speak English when they enroll, but are expected to rise to the standards of native speakers to graduate.
Students at Monday’s event expressed empathy for classmates who are struggling both with their studies and socially.
Rosa signaled she will support creation of initiatives to assist them. “Instead of Common Core, we need to find a core of common outcomes,” she said, while also addressing “the issue of equity and social justice.”
As a member of the Regents board, which sets statewide education policy, Rosa has criticized the state’s implementation of curricula aligned with the Common Core academic standards. She took over as chancellor of the 17-member panel in April.
The symposium to discuss “a pathway for academic, social and emotional success” sought to open up a conversation on how best to respond to the migration of children to the Island. The bulk of them attend schools in largely minority communities, said Marnie Hazelton, the Roosevelt schools superintendent.
Long Island is one of the top places in the nation for resettlement of unaccompanied minors because they find homes in established communities of Central American immigrants.
Recent figures issued by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement show that in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Island saw the population of resettled children spike by 140 percent over the previous 12-month period, with 2,691 children who arrived in this country as unaccompanied minors now living with relatives or sponsors in Nassau and Suffolk. Thousands of others had arrived over the last several years.
In a previous session at Monday’s symposium, superintendents from the Mineola and Glen Cove school systems agreed they would like to find other ways to integrate, evaluate and measure progress for students arriving late in the high school years and with little chance of passing standardized tests. They also highlighted the need for more funding to schools that are coping with an influx of immigrants.
“I beg state Ed to listen,” Glen Cove schools chief Maria Rianna said, referring to the state Education Department. “Give us the opportunity to submit grant proposals that provide for a variance in how we provide ENL [English as a New Language] services . . . so that our state-aid formulas better meet the needs of the students.”
She criticized the agency’s current “report card” system that groups all students of the same cohort to evaluate schools’ performances. With the collection of better statistics from alternative measures for English-language learners, Rianna said, “you will see the successes and the hard work” of immigrant students reflected.
Mineola Superintendent Michael Nagler and others spoke of the possibility of immigrant students’ portfolios being used as alternatives to evaluation, with “a focus on smaller achievements” over time.
“I think it’s absolutely ludicrous that we expect children who don’t speak the language to pass five exams in a four-year period” to meet Regents standards for graduation, Nagler said.
That approach, he said, “makes absolutely no sense” when the district can better spend its time “giving them language acquisition” and other skills.
Students, in a panel discussion about how to create a welcoming environment for the recent arrivals, echoed those concerns.
“Can you imagine if you don’t speak English having to pass those tests,” said Shauntice Youngs, a student at Roosevelt High School, noting the exams are difficult for native English speakers.
Hazelton said she was pleased with the start of a dialogue that goes beyond debating whether the migrant children should be here or not. The search for solutions — across school district lines — is an effort that could lead to concrete steps to give schools guidance and resources, she said.
“It’s a positive conversation where it’s not just ‘them,’ ‘they.’ It’s ‘us.’ What are we going to do together as a community?” Hazelton said. “We are a nation of immigrants. That’s who we are and we don’t turn people away. We embrace them and educate them.”