Minors Fleeing Central America Face Shaky Transition to U.S. Schools

Nona Willis Aronowitz, NBC News, September 15, 2014

In the late afternoon at the multi-colored Guatemalan-Maya Center, teens and kids as young as six were huddled in makeshift classrooms with teachers and high school volunteers. Days of the week and months of the year filled the dry erase boards. The written words were in English, but the children were speaking a jumble of languages: Spanish, a smattering of English, and indigenous Mayan languages like Q’anjob’al, Kachiquel, or Mam–the only ones some of these children are fluent in.

The center, a nonprofit serving immigrants from Guatemala, has been open since the 1980s, when brutal civil war drove many Guatemalan citizens to the United States. Up until a few months ago, the afterschool language program, Escuelita Maya, was frequented by only a handful of elementary school kids. But recently, the program’s enrollment has exploded along with the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, and Escuelita Maya now serves dozens of teens. When the Palm Beach County school district realized they were enrolling at least one of these Central American minors every day, the district’s multicultural department directed their new students to the afterschool program for help with English.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimates that since October 2013, 66,000 children and teenagers have crossed the U.S. border without their parents, most of them from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. {snip}

But for the kids learning vocabulary at the center today, the transition has been far from seamless. Some have never been to school or haven’t attended for years. Some aren’t literate in English or Spanish, and only speak Mayan languages, mostly Q’anjob’al.

“[The kids] come here and they’re thrown into these massive high schools,” said Jill Skok, community outreach director at the Guatemalan-Maya Center. “They’re happy to be there,” but it’s hard for them to do work when “they don’t even know the definition of the questions.” Most of their families don’t know English, either.


But some school districts have neither bilingual teachers nor organizations like the Guatemalan-Maya Center. Rachel Diaz, an immigration attorney at the Mennonite Central Committee, recently worked with a 17-year-old boy who’d never been to school until he came to Everglades City, Florida, around two hours west of Miami. The small city has one K-12 school without an ESL program. Only one staff member, a social studies teacher, speaks Spanish.

“That teacher essentially wrote a letter saying, ‘Nice kid, but we don’t have what he needs,’” said Diaz. “He’s here to survive and work, and he doesn’t want to go back. But what do you do? Do you put him in kindergarten? How comfortable would parents be to have a 17-year-old sitting with their six-year-old?”

Diaz said the teen is determined to learn English and become a teacher, but she worries about the domino effect a rejection like this can have. When this 17-year-old tells another unaccompanied minor what happened, “that child may not even bother” enrolling, Diaz said. “For someone who is illiterate, even the paperwork to get in school can be too much.”

Carvalho said Miami-Dade has employed “aggressive outreach” to direct services centers and youth groups to ensure these kids know they have “a right to a free, public education.” But these minors, particularly older teenagers who aren’t legally required to attend school, may face pressure from their families to start working right away; Skok said the center has “lost a few kids” for this reason.


The prospect of free education void of violence or fear is a major reason many of the minors have fled Central America to meet their families. So even though the kids have gone through a trauma most United States citizens will never face, Skok and others say they’re elated to be in the classroom.

During afterschool one day, Skok pulled out a mental health survey that a Catholic Charities psychologist had provided for the center. The teachers helped students fill them out a few days earlier so they could track their progress; the kids rated their mental state from 1 to 10 in a handful of categories. Hugo’s “individual” mind state rated a .5; he missed his sick grandmother, he later explained.

“School,” however, earned a 10.

“They’re excited to learn, so [the challenges of] school don’t phase them,” Skok said. “What they worry about most is being deported. They don’t want to have to leave.”

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  • DaveMed

    I can only imagine the fantastic ROI we will enjoy from all of this money we’re spending on these dirt-poor foreigners.

    • AmericanCitizen

      It’s part of the Cloward-Piven strategy to bankrupt America, blame the economic failure on the system of Democratic/Capitalism government, and institute full blown socialism as the savior of the underclass.

      • Roger Noah

        Full-blown socialism is actually a revival of feudalism. There is a socialist elite, more equal than the rest in an equal society, that splurges in luxury (witness the Soviet Union and today’s North Korea). The Obamas would still get their goodies and vacations in a real-life Animal Farm.

        • AmericanCitizen

          You’re right, plenty of GOP “leaders” and politicians will magically end up on the top level too.

  • Truthseeker

    Maybe we need to stop educating our own children. You know, just to be fair to these other kids who can’t learn in our system.

    • ElGringo

      You needn’t worry because our children aren’t being educated in these glorified prisons called schools either. Like everything else in this rotten society, schools are just another way to drain us working class folks of what little we do have. I absolutely loathe public schools.

      • ElComadreja

        They’re being “educated” if you consider indoctrination an education.

  • John Smith

    “Minors fleeing Central America face shaky transition to US schools”.

    How Orwellian.

    It should read:

    “Hard working, tax paying, law abiding white citizens face shaky transition and an ultimate dismal future from predatory, parasitic illegal aliens pouring into the country”

    • TruthBeTold

      It’s always our fault because we don’t care and we’re racists.

      • Alexandra1973

        Which kind of begs the question, if we’re so mean and racist, why do they want to be here?

    • ElComadreja

      This jungle trash should be on the first death train back to where they came from.

  • AmericanCitizen

    I’m sure all these children will grow up to become patriotic solid middle-class taxpaying Americans who are willing to fight for their new country and defend traditional constitutional freedoms and . . . obviously I’m full of it on this one. We’re educating a generation of illegal immigrants who are only going to learn anti-white/anti-American ideas in the classroom. They will be told there is no need to assimilate into traditional American culture, since they will be told it sucks. They will learn that the Constitution is outdated, and the right to bear arms doesn’t mean what is says. They will learn that anything LGBT is to be held in the highest esteem, and that the inner city black has been a victim for 300 or so years. They will learn that there is a gay gene, evolution is unquestioned, but that there is no genetic/hereditary difference between the caucasian, negro, or oriental.

    Enjoy the decline, because this train is headed right off the rails at high speed.

  • Johnny Squire

    -“But for the kids learning vocabulary at the center today, the transition has been far from seamless. Some have never been to school or haven’t attended for years. Some aren’t literate in English or Spanish, and only speak Mayan languages, mostly Q’anjob’al.”

    Their English language skills are unimportant. All that matters is that they speak the same language in the voting booths.

  • Roger Noah

    Rather than bring them here or let them in, we should have sent missionaries and teachers and doctors into their land. Meso-America is no ISIS-land. Those sent would have been safe. The billions we are spending on these kids here would have gone further in Central America.

    Money isn’t everything. These Maya kids would have been happier in Central America. They need communities, not big screen HDTV.

    Unfortunately, when our national ethos goes from Christian to neo-Marxist, this is the anarchy and overall suffering we get. Not only will our communities suffer, but the most to suffer will be the poor, unfortunate dislocated pre-Hispanic Central Americans.

    • TruthBeTold

      I agree that the problem is over there.

      We bomb and rebuild countries. Why don’t we try going over their with their permission to help them to make their own nations work.

      • ElGringo

        We both know that their nations will never resemble ours. The best course of action is to leave them alone. If they insist on trespassing on our lands then shoot them. Everyone understands that.

  • If my daughter went to a public school and claimed to speak only Booga’booga-N’DeKabooga’booga’N’DeKer’r’r’r’r’rbam, my wife and I would be arrested.

    • IstvanIN

      You and the Mrs. are held to a higher standard.

  • phorning

    “The prospect of free education void of violence or fear is a major
    reason many of the minors have fled Central America to meet their
    families. So even though the kids have gone through a trauma most United
    States citizens will never face, Skok and others say they’re elated to
    be in the classroom.”

    How does the reporter know this? Does she speak Q’anjob’al? How do they understand the surveys they are being given by the Catholic Charities psychologist? I am willing to consider the possibility the respondents were coached or assisted when they completed the survey.

  • Mary

    “They’re excited to learn, so the challenges of school don’t phase them” states Jill Skok, community outreach director at the Guatemalan-Maya Center.
    Interesting. In the last article, we were advised that they were so psychologically traumatized from the hardships of their journey north, that they would be unable to settle down and learn.
    So, which is it?

  • dd121

    My grand kids, 6 and 8 are in German school near Frankfort, are doing great. They seemed to take to the language with ease. The girl, 6, tells me she loves her school.

  • Simonetta

    Just for one second, let’s disregard all the questions of whether or not these people actually should be here.

    Creating a hand-held computer device that could do real-time speech-to-text phonetic analysis of these completely bizarre prehistoric languages- and then do a near- instant translation into English, and then do the same from English back into Goop-ga would be an incredible intellectual accomplishment. Right up there with the guy who managed to translate the Rosetta Stone back in the 1830s.

    Of course, whether or not these people would have anything to actually communicate beyond “The chicken’s are hungry and it might rain today” would be another issue.

    Still, building a computer program that could do a real-time translation from Goop into English would be one mean trick.

    OK, second’s up. Back to ragging on their worthless little butts.

    • corvinus

      I’m sure there are already apps that do that… it’s just that support for Qanjobal or other languages that sound like they came out of sci-fi aren’t likely to be included.

  • IstvanIN

    Wasn’t that the third most popular girl’s name in Detroit according to the Social Security BabyNames report for 2013?

    • Leon NJ

      That name would go damn well with that other article about the chaos in Normandy middle school.

  • Zimriel

    Q’anjob’al – yet another Mayan language I’d not even HEARD of before reading these articles. (Mam was the other one.)

    No civilised person speaks this stuff. The classic Maya didn’t speak this stuff. Even the stars of Apocalypto (which is increasingly looking like a documentary) didn’t speak this stuff.

    • Puggg

      Probably not ideal that the name of the language has not just one, but two, apostrophes.

  • The ultimate goal of the multiculturalists is to dismantle the US, creating a single country that stretches from Mexico through Canada, in effect turning all of North America into the equivalent of Brazil. Unless you understand that goal, you’ll do nothing but rail against this outrage and the next and the next after that.

    There’s a method behind the madness. Understand the monster you are fighting. Boycott the globalist corporations, starting with McDonald’s of 365 Black fame. Turn McD’s into a black and Mexican hellhole and maybe even drive it out of business.

    If you have a better idea, I’m open to listening. But, WE have to start exercising our economic power while we still have some. The other part of the goal is to impoverish us. It’s working.

    • Bossman

      Nothing is going to stop North American integration. Why shouldn’t Mexico become more like the USA? Why shouldn’t Canada become more like the USA if they want to?

      • I’ll bet anything you like that it could stopped with enough hydrogen bombs.

        • ElGringo

          It could be stopped with volunteers and rifles. I’ve never cared for the indiscriminate destruction of nuclear weapons.

        • Bossman

          So you would like to throw hydrogen bombs at Walmart stores in Mexico and Canada. Why? I like shopping at Walmart.

          • I like shopping at Wally World, too, because saving money is a damned fine thing. I also happen to like hydrogen bombs.

      • SentryattheGate

        The wheel’s still spinning but the hamster is dead! What is it with you?

      • Greg Thomas

        Because mexico is not capable of becoming more like the US. More likely, the US will become more like mexico. That’s what we get from open borders.

      • Alexandra1973

        Your guts are just hanging out for integration, aren’t they?

        Newsflash: Do Not Want.

      • ElComadreja

        Except that’s not what happens. The US and Canada will become more like Mexico. The US is already well on the way.

      • Teresa Nichols

        Because it won’t be Mexico becoming more like the USA. It will be the USA becoming more like Mexico.

        Just head to central and southern California for some prime examples.

  • Kay

    It may be just my boorish lack of compassion, but I really don’t see the sense in making these illegal alien children attend public schools, many of which are basket cases with enough unmotivated and disruptive students as they are. Does anybody really think that an illiterate 15-year-old from Guatemala with no education can remotely handle even a dumb-downed high school class, especially in a cumulative subject (e.g. math, science), let alone be expected to appreciate the future utility of this tedious, incomprehensible education and the millions the taxpayers are spending to accommodate him?

    Ugh, my head hurts.

    • Dale McNamee

      Not to mention the fact that they are also carrying diseases… Some that are antibiotic resistant or there’s no vaccines or medicines for…

  • A Freespeechzone

    But, but. . . They are DREAMERS.

    • Alexandra1973

      And our national nightmare.

  • Spikeygrrl

    Will someone please remind me where in the Constitution it says that FOREIGN NATIONALS, whether illegal or legitimately green-carded and legally working their way toward citizenship, have “a right to a free, public education”? Notice you never hear them (or their race-baiter pimps) clamoring to use the public libraries to help themselves LEARN ENGLISH!!!

  • Neue Sachlichkeit

    Cry me an easily-waded river.

  • Neue Sachlichkeit

    I appreciate your heart and kindness, but I honestly don’t think this is our problem, and nothing (as I am, er, seeing) would have been enough. We’ve sent how many doctors, missionaries, and teachers into Africa, at this point? You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, no matter how well meant you are.

    • saxonsun

      Thumbs up.

  • bilderbuster

    You are under the illusion that they really want to help these children when the reality is they were brought here to hurt us, waste our resources and destroy our culture and bloodlines.

    • John R

      It is called ethnic replacement. Make us “evil racist” White people the minority. The cultural Marxist agenda. All of the world’s problems are caused by us, and the world will be a better place when we no longer have power. This is all according to plan.

      • bilderbuster

        That is true but we are also hated by an ethnic minority who has plans for world domination and we are in the way.

  • Dale McNamee

    The kids are illiterate and don’t speak English… Just like our “Libturd/Progturd” Legislators ( “Feral”,State,and Municipal)…

  • Dale McNamee

    The US should end ALL AID to Mexico,Guatemala,El Salvador,Honduras since they see fit to flood us with their problems…Er,children… The President of Guatemala demanded, yes demanded, that the US GIVE him $2 billion to help with HIS PROBLEMS ! Machismo arrogance on display !

    We should demand repayment of all of aid we’ve given them !

  • John R

    So we have “Hispanic” immigrants that don’t know Spanish? Huh? But then how are they “Hispanic”? Oh, never mind.

  • John R

    In the description it said some of the kids speak “Mam”? I didn’t even know that was a language! I never heard of anyone speaking “mam.” That is, unless you count people saying politely “How do you do, ma’am” is that what they mean?

  • Adolf Verloc

    “He’s here to survive and work, and he doesn’t want to go back.” Sorry, but we can’t help you there. Finding work if you don’t speak English or Spanish or if you don’t have the sort of small-business culture that East Asians do will be next to impossible. Send them home.