SF schools preparing for increase in unaccompanied immigrant students

The San Francisco Unified School District, a nationwide leader in newcomer student programs, wants the recent surge of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving in the U.S. to know that they are welcome in The City’s public schools – and have been for some time.

While the district already accommodates immigrant students through its pathway programs, school officials are preparing for the arrival of more unaccompanied children than in previous years by coordinating resources with city agencies and likely hiring several new teachers.

“San Francisco is a sanctuary city, and [SFUSD] is a sanctuary school district,” said Matt Haney, a Board of Education member who has authored a resolution specifically urging the district to meet the needs of recent unaccompanied immigrant children fleeing from Central America.

The school board is expected to vote on the resolution Tuesday, and that would follow the unanimous passage of a city resolution last month to dedicate resources toward humanitarian relief efforts for the massive influx of children from Central America seeking refuge in the U.S. this year.

The Department of Homeland Security has reported a substantial increase in 2014 of Central American children fleeing their home countries for the U.S. – about 47,017 since October, according to Haney. More than 60,000 children are anticipated to enter the U.S. this fiscal year, with up to 400 children crossing the border each day.

Between January and June, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that about 175 school-age children were released to relatives and host families in San Francisco, and many more are likely arriving without being processed by the agency, Haney said.

“We have the responsibility to meet the needs of all of the children in San Francisco, and we know that there is a population of children with a specific set of needs, a perhaps broader set of needs, that we as a school district want to be prepared for,” Haney said.

San Francisco public schools are very familiar with educating immigrant children. The district each year expects an increase in newcomer students, considered to be children who arrived in the U.S. within the past year and speak little English, said Christina Wong, special assistant to the superintendent for SFUSD.

The district – which as of June has 1,029 newcomer students enrolled for the 2014-15 school year – will likely hire an additional two to three teachers to prepare for more students, Wong said.

In 2013-14, the district received 1,591 newcomer students in its 12 pathways programs – which include English-language development and other transitional support. That was up from 840 in the 2012-13 school year. Traditionally, about half of the newcomer students are Chinese, while the other half are Spanish speakers.

In anticipation of an increase of unaccompanied immigrant students, district officials are scheduled to meet this month to solidify coordination with city agencies that work with such children, according to Wong.

“They may need certain social and emotional support services, and legal services, and other wraparound services,” Wong said of unaccompanied children. “We want to make sure those systems are in place so they have access to this information.”

The district does not keep track of how many students arrived in the U.S. without their families. But at San Francisco International, the only public high school in The City exclusively for newcomer students, the number of those who arrived unaccompanied has doubled from 10 percent to 20 percent since the school opened in 2009.

Principal Julie Kessler said the children will greatly benefit from a citywide conversation to ensure housing, work, legal and social services are in place.

“The needs the students have in school are not purely academic,” Kessler said. “It would be very easy right now for schools to think individually about their response; [but] really we should be having this conversation together.”

She emphasized that many of these students have faced extreme hardships and came to the U.S. seeking an education.

“They are not a burden,” Kessler said. “They are some of the most motivated and resilient students in our schools.”

Coming to America

The San Francisco Unified School District has hundreds of newcomer (immigrants in the the last year) students each year, some of whom arrive without their parents or other family.

1,029 newcomer students enrolled for 2014-15 school year

1,591 newcomer students in 2013-14 school year

840 newcomer students in 2012-13 school year

12 SFUSD pathway programs for newcomer students

Source: SFUSD

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