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Back to School at the Border

By Elizabeth Tuten Sept. 13, 2018

On September 12 The New York Times reported that the detention of migrant children had skyrocketed to highest-ever levels.  At 90% capacity, shelters like Casa Padre in Brownsville, Texas, are straining to meet the legal requirements for detained youth, including those surrounding education. Any child living in the US, regardless of immigration status, is legally required to attend school. For the children still in detention centers, Southwest Key—an immigration non-profit—has partnered with Brownsville Independent School District to bring teachers into their centers until sponsors—usually family members—have been identified for each detained child. But the children who have already been released to sponsors and who will start their local public schools, a different set of challenges lie ahead.  

Receiving an education may require a community of support for those who have recently crossed the border. “Nearly all of these kids are ESL—Spanish is their first language and communicating at school is very difficult for them,” says Communities In Schools of Cameron County—also located in Brownsville, TX—Executive Director Eva Perez. “They’re missing a lot of basic needs. Many are considered homeless because they’re staying with family in temporary situations, and some of the high school students are parents themselves.” Challenges like these flag students for extra support and a referral to CIS of Cameron County.  

Aside from academic support and access to basic needs like food, clothes, and personal care items, CIS of Cameron County site coordinators are also on the lookout for symptoms of the compounded trauma some immigrant students face. Not only have these young people left they only home they’ve known, they also experienced an arduous and dangerous journey before acclimating to a new country via a shelter environment, often without their parents. Kids who endure adverse childhood experiences such as these are more likely to suffer mental health and behavioral disorders, poor physical health, and have lower rates of academic achievement. But with trauma-informed care, students are empowered to take control of their stories and find a path forward.  

CIS of Cameron County makes sure that immigrant students have access to small groups that create a safe space for students to talk about and work through their experiences. Parenting classes and resources are also offered to give young moms and dads the opportunity to reduce the effects of trauma in the lives of their children. CIS of Cameron County partners with Tropical Texas Behavioral Health to connect students and their families to counseling services. Treating trauma is as crucial to student success as basic needs and academic support.  

Back to school can be intimidating for any student, but for those encumbered by language barriers, trauma, and acclimating to a new life, it may seem like an insurmountable challenge. By offering a safe space on campus, resources, and trauma-informed care, CIS of Cameron County is making sure that this vulnerable population of kids has everything necessary to succeed both in an out of the classroom.