Nov 7, 2023 - News

How Massachusetts schools are responding to influx of migrants

Photo illustration of a collage of a chalkboard, abstract scribbles and family holding hands.

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Schools across Massachusetts have brought in social workers, upgraded technology and made other changes to anticipate the influx of migrant students this year.

Driving the news: Education officials tell Axios they have seen enrollment increase in Brockton, Boston, Lynn and other cities even after the start of the school year, in large part because of recently arrived migrant families.

  • Some of those students not only need help learning English, but had interruptions in their schooling because of COVID-19, discrimination, poverty and other reasons, meaning they will need more help in school.

Why it matters: Even some of the most welcoming school districts with robust bilingual education programs are stretching their limits and seeking help from the state to cover unexpected costs.

The big picture: Schools nationwide are springing to action as they face complaints about strained resources, teacher shortages and other existing challenges, Steph reported with Axios' Stef Kight, Alayna Alvarez, Caitlin Owens and Monica Eng.

State of play: Massachusetts offers school districts $1,000 per student housed in emergency shelters who attend their schools.

  • The state plans to send another $104 per student per day to schools for enrollment and other extra costs related to educating students in emergency shelter, as well as additional state transportation funds.

Yes, but: The needs extend beyond classroom instruction, school officials say.

Zoom in: Brockton Public Schools, a district where nearly half of students speak a language other than English at home, enrolled more than 500 English language learners in grades 1-12 since July, with dozens arriving in October alone.

  • The district already offers support with schooling and wraparound services in multiple languages through the Multilingual Parent Communication Center, but staffers are juggling higher caseloads.
  • In the past two years, the MPCC has upgraded its communications system so interpreters and other staffers can respond to requests from teachers and parents faster, says Kellie Jones, the district’s director of bilingual education.
  • The district also turned a basement into a "clothing closet" so families in need can find clothing and other supplies.

Boston Public Schools has enrolled more than 900 foreign-born students since July, though it's not clear how many came across the southern border.

  • BPS hired a district-wide social worker and 18 in-school social workers dedicated to migrant students with education disruptions, says Jillian Kelton, the district's chief of student support. That's in addition to its existing 200 social workers.

But the district plans to move English language learners into general education classrooms, GBH News reported.

  • Like many school districts, BPS had been instructing ELL students separately in their native language.
  • The move prompted eight members of BPS' English Learners Task Force to resign, calling the plan "ill-advised" and "harmful" for students.

What we're watching: How long the state funding for students in emergency shelter can last.

  • State lawmakers are reviewing a supplemental spending bill that could infuse more money into public schools enrolling children in shelters, including migrants. The House plans to release details on how much it will fund today.

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