In recent years, an unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors have joined the ranks of immigrants entering the United States from Central America. The majority of these children are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. This wave of minors began in 2012, prompted by issues in Central America and the common belief among Central American families that children sent to the United States would be allowed to stay. In the case of El Salvador, many minors left their home country to escape poverty and gang violence. Many young people and their families feel as if they have no future in El Salvador, and believe that the Salvadoran government cannot help them.When these children arrive in the United States unaccompanied, they are placed with sponsors, usually family members, while their deportation cases are pending.
Northern Virginia is one of the most common destinations for unaccompanied minors. 5,563 unaccompanied children arrived in the region between October 2013 and September 2015. This high rate can be attributed to the Salvadoran migration patterns that we studied in class. Many Salvadorans have come to the D.C. area following a chain migration that began in the 1960s, seeking jobs such as construction and child care in the growing city. Adult immigrants in the region are now sponsoring their young relatives and bringing them to the United States from El Salvador.
As a result of this surge, the City of Alexandria now has to address the task of educating and supporting children who have arrived from El Salvador and other Central American countries with limited English skills. Two responses to this need are the International Academies at T.C. Williams High School and Francis C. Hammond Middle School. T.C. Williams opened its International Academy in September 2012. Its counterpart at Francis C. Hammond launched at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year. Both programs are part of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, an alternative to the traditional education model for English Language Learners. In the INPS model, English Language Learners are grouped together, regardless of grade level, with the idea that older students with more English skills will be able to help the new arrivals find their footing. This educational model is centered around five principles that include collaboration, experiential learning, and autonomy. The International Academy at T.C. Williams has a particularly high Salvadoran population, reflecting the large number of Salvadoran minors in the D.C. area Students enrolled in the T.C. Williams program have generally been in the United States for less than three years and have tested as having “intermediate to no English proficiency.” The International Academy aims to help newly arrived young immigrants find their academic footing.
In addition to academics, the INPS model emphasizes counseling services and other forms of aid given to immigrant students to ease their transition. School counselors help the students cope with emotional traumas and provide financial assistance through nonprofits and churches, all with the goal of keeping the students in school. The INPS website boasts that ELL students in INPS New York City schools have a 4-year graduation rate of 64%, compared to a 37% rate amongst ELL students in New York City’s public schools. The new International Academy at Francis C. Hammond hopes to support younger students and prepare them for high school, further reducing the dropout rate. The recent increase in unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, as well as other Central American countries, has created a demand in Alexandria for both ELL education and out-of-school support. The INPS model is growing in popularity and may prove successful in its attempts to better the lives of young immigrants.
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