Seeking to Better Integrate Students, LI Teachers Visit El Salvador

(Photo from LILTA via Noticia)

Members of the Long Island Latino Teachers Association (LILTA) visited El Salvador to learn about the Central American country’s educational system in order to foster the integration of students migrating from El Salvador to Long Island, New York.

“We have thousands of students arriving from El Salvador to our Brentwood, Hempstead, Central Islip, Freeport, Huntington and South Huntington classrooms. Most of them come from the west of the country and have troubled academic histories and high levels of violent experiences,” said LILTA President Dafny J. Irizarry about the trip the group took to El Salvador from Aug. 7 to 14 accompanied by Salvadoran Consul on Long Island Miguel Alas Sevillano.

Irizarry explained that Long Island school districts experienced a massive influx of Hispanic students who crossed the border into the United States between 2015 and 2017. In order to obtain legal status, USCIS requires immigrant youths to attend school.

“We thought that traveling to El Salvador would be a good way to understand, learn and gather information about the country’s educational system so we can integrate these students to ours. We found that the way they organize their educational levels is different from the way we do it. For instance, theirs is divided into three cycles between first and ninth grade, while students here are entering high school in ninth grade,” said Irizarry. “In El Salvador, education is not the only problem. Violence is the biggest obstacle, and there are schools where there are up to two maras (gangs).”

She continued: “One of the ways in which Salvadoran teachers fight violence is by forbidding students from bringing phones to school.” (…)

The language barrier

“When students arrive on Long Island, they take a test and we open a file on them. That way, we can measure their knowledge of geography, mathematics, etc., and we start working with them in their ESL classes, which are mandated by law if there are more than 20 students speaking the same language in a class (in this case Spanish),” said Irizarry.

“Students come to the U.S. with great needs, and they face obstacles such as the English language, a new culture, living with people they do not know, they are in debt with their smuggler, have to pay rent… They come to this country to live a grown-up’s life and these necessities make them quit school. That is where we have a duty to create programs and activities that complement the school system and try to connect with them to help them out. For instance, we have after-school multicultural clubs,” she explained.

(…) Counselor Laura Rivera said: “Many children come traumatized by incidents at the border. They go through a lot of violence on their way here. Some parents accept the psychological treatment we provide, but others don’t.”

There is also the sensitive topic of children separated from their parents at the border. “ICE said that six Salvadoran children arrived at the Mercy shelter on Long Island, where they continue to receive the same services as the rest of the kids who are going to school, only they never leave the center. While they are there, a legal custody process begins until their fate is decided, whether it is reunification with their parents or with a relative,” said Salvadoran Consul Alas Sevillano.

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