Some of the unaccompanied minors who made the dangerous trek across the border between Mexico and the United States are in Connecticut now, and are enrolled in local public schools.
One high school in New Haven has created a school within a school for immigrant students, both documented and undocumented. The International Academy at Wilbur Cross High School is designed to help recently-arrived young people adjust to their new lives here.
Francisco, 18, arrived in New Haven last year from Honduras. He came to see his mother after ten years apart, he said, to meet for the first time his sisters and brothers who live here, and to have the chance at a better future.
“At first, it was pretty sad,” Francisco said in Spanish. “I missed my sisters in Honduras, and the grandparents who’d raised me, but it was very exciting to meet my siblings and start to make up for the years I’d been separated from my mother.”
We were seated in a small office in Wilbur Cross High School, in a part of the building set aside for the International Academy. With us was Javier, 16. Both young men asked that we not use their last names.
Javier was just four when his father left Ecuador to come and work in the U.S. His mother left when he was nine. Last year, he flew by plane to Honduras. Over the course of a month, he traveled by foot, car, and even swam at times through Central America, and across the border between Mexico and the U.S.
“I walked three days and three nights without eating, [and] without drinking water,” Javier said in Spanish. “Nothing. They treat you bad. They hit you. They mistreat you. If you have money, you eat. If you don’t, you’re just left hungry.”
Francisco and Javier are classmates at the Academy, which opened last year, and is run by assistant principal Ann Brilliante. “The majority of our students are speaking Spanish,” she said, “but Arabic is the rising second language, and French for the French African countries. Actually, we have a student this year that was really tricky to support, because his main language is Kurdish. We really didn’t have anybody to support him, so that was tough.”
Supporting these students’ emotional health is critical for their future academic success, Brilliante said, so she began a partnership with New Haven’s Post Traumatic Stress Center. Clinician Lizzy McAdam visits the school each week.
“There are a lot of students who are working through having family members who are undocumented, the pressure of trying to keep families together, and just what it’s like to acclimate to a new life,” McAdam said. She said kids describe a wide range of experiences. Challenges include “coming from a culture that is incredibly different from that here in Connecticut, and also just the secrecy around it, and the fear of having members of your family be deported.”
To read the full story: http://wnpr.org/post/how-one-new-haven-high-school-supports-immigrant-students?nopop=1