Teachers, policymakers and community members are gathering Monday in Roosevelt to seek ways to educate Long Island’s growing immigrant student population — the first such symposium across school district lines.
Tens of thousands of boys and girls have migrated every year, as many cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally to seek legal admission as minors, escaping violence and poverty in their native countries. Thousands of them have arrived in Nassau and Suffolk counties over the past several years.
Public school districts, required by federal and state law to educate students between ages 5 and 21 regardless of immigration status, have had to adapt and find resources, despite property-tax caps that limit spending increases, the continuing challenge of implementing the Common Core curriculum and the desire to strengthen their academic programs.
The Roosevelt schools’ first symposium on the topic is expected to attract dozens of administrators, teachers and staff from communities including Hempstead, Brentwood, Mineola, Plainview-Old Bethpage, Malverne and Valley Stream, as they plan to discuss “a pathway for academic, social and emotional success” of English learners and all immigrant students. The district intends for the symposium to become an annual event.
The gathering, scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., will take place at Roosevelt High School and is expected to attract between 200 and 250 people.
The keynote speaker will be Betty Rosa, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, the panel that sets education policy in the state.
Rosa, who was born in New York City and spent her childhood years in Puerto Rico, earlier worked in the city’s schools as a bilingual paraprofessional, teacher, reading coordinator and administrator.
Marnie Hazelton, the Roosevelt schools’ superintendent convening the symposium, said affected districts have been left to their own devices and without additional state or federal aid to cope with the increased influx, primarily of children from Central America.
“We welcome all students, but it is a real challenge when we are receiving students who are 18 to 21, the courts say we need to educate them and when we test them we find out they may not even have been in school since elementary grades,” Hazelton said. “The state has no empathy or solution for us, but they will hit us with a low graduation rate or high dropout rate and they will put us on a list” of struggling schools.
Her district alone has seen a 30 percent increase in English learners since September, she said, bringing its population of those students to about 750, of which 26 were classified as “students with interrupted formal education” because they had not been attending school regularly in their countries.
Much of the recent migration is the result of turmoil in the Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where children often are the targets of gang violence and families live in extreme poverty. They have been coming north, many as unaccompanied minors, seeking asylum and protection.
Long Island has become one of the top places for the resettlement of those minors, because they find homes in established communities of Central American immigrants.
Recently updated figures released by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement show that in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Long Island saw the population of resettled children spike by 140 percent over the previous 12-month period as 2,691 children who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors were resettled with relatives or sponsors in Nassau and Suffolk. The total resettled here was lower than the peak of more than 3,000 who came to live on the Island in 2014.
Monday’s event will feature discussions on how to help immigrants and English-language learners obtain high school diplomas; how to get the children’s families more closely involved with their education; and how to combat negative influences, such as the criminal street gangs that have targeted some of those children.
Hazelton hopes the symposium helps educators to emerge with the start of an agenda so the districts can share resources and join in common advocacy goals.
“Everyone in education knows the issues,” Hazelton said. “We have no problem with educating every child, but with that comes the need for additional resources. Federal and state governments, they say to us you must enroll, you must accept these children. Fine, would you provide assistance?”