A surge of young adult immigrants with limited skills have flooded the Revere schools and surrounding community school districts, challenging the schools’ missions and causing them to divert resources from the traditional student population.
Supt. Paul Dakin said this week that the five-district consortium – made up of Revere, Chelsea, Everett, Malden and Somerville – is looking for ways to finance the new challenge of educating young adult immigrants who want to go to school and have extreme literacy challenges. He said things are stretched so thin that they are looking at creating a regional school to combat the new problem.
“We’re seeing older teens and 19 year olds that want to go to school and they have no English language skills at all and several don’t even have literacy in their own language, which creates even more difficulties,” said Dakin. “We’ve always had kids come with limited English skills, but they were very young and picked up things quickly. The older you are, the harder it is to switch…For whatever reason, these older kids want to be in school. If you’re here and of age, we have to serve you. If we put a non-English speaking 19 year old who isn’t even literate in his or her native language into a regular RHS classroom, it just is absurd. What we had to do was put together a Newcomer’s Program.”
Dakin said this was the first full year for the program, which runs at the high school from 3 -8 p.m. during the weekdays. It is wholly separate from RHS and from the Community School – which is also new and a reaction to the adult immigrant population that need English language services. It is more like a branch of RHS – such as Seacoast.
But what such programs do to school districts is divert dollars that are already in short supply to programs that are only marginally successful – given the advanced ages and limited educational backgrounds of the students.
“Most of them aren’t ending up graduating because there’s so much they need,” said Dakin. “By the time they reach a point where they have just part of what they need, they’re 22 and we can no longer serve them. It’s the new unfunded need because it’s a different crew of people and there are others that usually do this work, yet we’re obligated to do it because they’re showing up here and we have to educate these students. It’s a unique problem; Chelsea has more of it than Revere does. But, we have the problem too and it’s obvious.”
The problem is not Revere’s alone, and Dakin said Everett, Somerville and Chelsea are dealing with the exact same issues – and are perhaps even more overloaded.
In Chelsea last week, school district officials said they have dealt with a huge influx of immigrants since January – starting the year with an overall enrollment of 5,500 and ending with 6,200. Some 285 of the new students had come directly from a foreign country, with 75 of them coming via the Texas or Arizona border.
School leaders there said it has been a challenge to accommodate the new students – noting that they’ve had to hire extra teachers and also mental health professionals for the new students at the expense of other existing programs.
In Revere, Dakin said there are about 25 students in the Newcomer’s Program, and what it results in is larger class sizes at RHS because resources are diverted to handle the new population.
“It’s still money you wouldn’t have to spend; it’s another piece of the pie that you have to divide up,” he said. “You take that money and divert it to the newcomer’s program. You don’t cut, you divert. But to divert causes ripple effects at RHS and those ripple effects are usually larger class sizes at RHS.
“This is a state and federal government issue and we can’t solve the problem,” Dakin continued. “We can be part of the solution, but they have to understand the effects on a local setting that their federal policies have. I have no problem with the policy. I have a problem with not properly provisioning us so we can give these students what they rightfully deserve. If we can’t teach them English, we’re doing the community no favor at all.”
For now, Revere has tried to piggy-back resources, such as using the traditional high school building during hours when staff and custodians are still in the building. They also are not filling teaching vacancies that open up due to retirements. Instead, Dakin said they are allocating that money to existing teachers who are willing to teach at the Newcomer’s Program after their regular school day has finished.
However, Dakin said that all five of the school districts that formed last year to help implement new federal educational changes – known as Common Core – have rallied around the idea of helping one another. He said it wouldn’t be something that happens next school year, but perhaps in the year afterward. One problem that would need to be ironed out is whether or not the state would allow such a collaboration, and if so, how it would be funded. Dakin said most in the consortium are worried that the state would look on the new configuration as a separate entity – altering existing funding formulas.
Needless to say, as all that gets worked out, school officials from all over the area only see the problem growing and the resources shrinking.
“It’s a need and it’s growing and I don’t see it stopping due to the nature of the country being so open and so many coming,” said Dakin. “We just need to start realizing that and funding the problem.”