Oct 30, 2023 - News

Denver schools scramble to respond to influx of migrant students

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

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

School districts in Denver and across the country are on the front lines of the migrant crisis as children coming with their families across the U.S.-Mexico border enter classrooms.

Driving the news: Education officials tell Axios they are trying to enforce vaccination requirements, find classroom space, change bus routes and hire more bilingual teachers to meet the needs of thousands of students who have survived traumatizing migration journeys.

Why it matters: Schools have sprung into action as they also navigate complaints about strained resources, on top of a host of existing challenges like pandemic learning disruption and severe teacher shortages.

  • All children in the U.S. are entitled to a public elementary and secondary education regardless of their citizenship or immigration status, per the Department of Education.

By the numbers: Denver Public Schools are seeing many full classrooms as nearly 2,000 migrant students have arrived since July, including about 400 this month, Adrienne Endres, executive director of multilingual education, tells us.

The big picture: The past two months set records for families illegally crossing the southern border, according to Homeland Security data. Last month alone, 124,000 family members crossed without visas.

Zoom in: DPS officials are scrambling to meet their new students' learning, physical and mental health needs.

  • Teachers across the district are working to connect families with housing resources and organizing clothing drives for warm winter gear.
  • The district is also in the process of adding another Newcomer Center for elementary schools to create more overflow space, since most of its other newcomer centers are "very close to capacity right now," Endres says.

Between the lines: This month, Denver extended the time that migrant families can stay in city-provided shelters to 37 days — a week longer than before.

  • DPS officials are "hoping for that to be extended a bit longer," Endres says, "because we see kiddos coming in and living near a school for 37 days and they have to pick up and move" after the deadline, which can be disruptive to their education.

Reality check: Despite the challenges, school officials tell Axios the larger importance of their work is clear.

  • "This isn't just crisis and strain, it's also building community and making sure kids are welcome and safe in a new city," Endres says.

Go deeper ... Schools scramble to respond to an influx of migrant students

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