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The Massive Immigration Wave Hitting America’s Classrooms

I wonder how many progressives there are with kids in these schools...that are fine with this. Just kidding, Lori Lightfoot had her kids in private school. Not her's yours.

The Massive Immigration Wave Hitting America’s Classrooms

In Stoughton, Mass., students arrive with traumatic pasts and little English

By Jon Kamp and Alicia A. Caldwell, WSJ

May 25, 2024 9:00 am ET

STOUGHTON, Mass.—Eighth-grader Sandla Desir spoke softly in a classroom recently while reading the Dr. Seuss book, “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish,” aloud in accented English.

The book isn’t typical material for a 13-year-old. But when Sandla started at O’Donnell Middle School in September, the native Haitian Creole speaker could barely read.

“Her fluency is remarkable,” said Amy Quealy, who directs English Language Education for the school district in Stoughton, Mass., a suburb south of Boston.

Sandla’s progress illustrates the mix of triumphs and challenges for an influx of young migrants around the country that is unprecedented in recent history.

Millions of migrants, most seeking asylum, have crossed the border in recent years and have been allowed to settle in the U.S. until a federal immigration judge decides their fate, a process that can take years. Among the record numbers, federal data suggest, are as many as one million children who have arrived with their families or on their own since 2021.

They are settling in cities and entering public schools around the U.S., adding financial and logistical strains in communities where they have arrived in large numbers. Districts are faced with the need for additional teachers and staff who can teach English and space for new students, often while waiting for promised supplemental federal or state funding.

Language books in a classroom for English learners at O’Donnell Middle School in Stoughton, Mass.

Dany Cherry, 15, center, attends a morning class at Stoughton High School.

Denver schools, for example, earlier this year announced a $17.5 million budget shortfall because of new migrant students.

There were recently more than 500 English learners in Stoughton schools, double the number from three years ago. The increase was fueled partly by 90 students, ranging from kindergarten to high school, placed by the state in two nearby hotels serving as homeless shelters. Many are from recently arrived Haitian migrant families.

Haitians have flocked to Massachusetts, which has an established population from the long-troubled Caribbean country.

Increased costs

Adding the 90 shelter students has cost Stoughton, which teaches a total of 3,740 students, at least $500,000 for increased staff and busing costs. The state said it has reimbursed nearly all of that money. But the lag time and uncertainty about how much would be paid back has challenged the district’s ability to plan, said Joseph Baeta, Stoughton’s superintendent.

The most immediate upfront costs this year were hiring five new staff members, including two teachers, and contracting for a bus to shuttle students to and from the hotel shelters, Baeta said. The district has gone from seven to 17 English-as-a-second-language teachers in the past five years.

Massachusetts is legally mandated to offer shelter to any family that seeks it. Migrant families recently comprised about half of the 7,477 homeless families recently living in state shelters, which are at capacity. The state since October 2022 has spent roughly $26 million to reimburse school districts for costs associated with students living in shelters.

In some cases, the state also has consolidated shelter locations to trim costs and house families in locations that offer social services, including Stoughton. Such moves funneled roughly half of the 90 migrant students into Stoughton from other Massachusetts towns in recent months.

Stoughton school officials say these relocations are making the difficult job of helping migrant children adjust to life in the U.S. even tougher.

“We have to mitigate the disruptions they had on their journey, but now we’re being asked to mitigate the disruptions that we are causing,” said Quealy, the English Language Education director.

Peabody, a city north of Boston, also has received more students because of the consolidation efforts. Josh Vadala, superintendent of the school district there, said 80 new migrant students have enrolled over the school year, with new arrivals often coming on short notice.

Vadala and Baeta said they have done their best to alleviate concerns they have heard from community members by ensuring that no existing students are displaced.

“That’s when animosity happens, when existing kids don’t get what they need,” Vadala said.

‘Huge trauma issues’

Migrant students often arrive both with checkered academic histories and having endured harrowing events in their home countries and on their journeys to the U.S. One girl in a Stoughton High School English-learning class wrote, following a discussion about pets, that gangs in Haiti killed and ate her cat, teacher Thais Payne said.

“There are huge trauma issues. There are students who don’t even have basic skills in their first language,” said Baeta. “In some cases they have lived in two, three or four countries and are not even five years old.”

Stoughton has a history of drawing immigrants, including Baeta, the superintendent, who moved to the middle-class town as a Portuguese speaker from the Azores when he was five. Students in schools there today speak more than two dozen languages. Portuguese is still most common, but Haitian Creole is second and gaining ground.

The district is preparing for 40 additional children already living in the shelters to enter kindergarten this fall.

The influx of teenagers is particularly challenging, though, because they won’t get the many years of English instruction typically needed to be successful in school, said Payne.

“What we’re trying to do is defy the odds” with the older students, the high-school teacher said.

English can be a tricky language to learn. In a recent discussion, 15-year-old Dany Cherry—who lives in a shelter with his Haitian father—read aloud the sentence “people rarely wear flip flops in the winter” as the class worked to identify the adverb.

Later, another student asked why “live” can mean two things, with two different pronunciations. After collecting written statements from students using the word, Payne said: “Ah, you guys all did the easy one: ‘I live in Stoughton.’”

Just as they settle into schools there, many students face the prospect of leaving. A recently passed Massachusetts law imposes new limits on shelter stays, though the impact for current shelter residents in Stoughton and elsewhere remains unclear.

Dianise Archange, her husband and their daughter, Sandla Desir, entered the U.S. last summer and are sheltering in a Stoughton, Mass., hotel. The family has applied for asylum.

The housing search in metro Boston, where apartments are hard to find and very pricey, could mean families who find homes eventually settle outside Stoughton. This already worries Sandla, the eighth-grader, her mother Dianise Archange said.

“She said she loves the school, so she’s asking me to please find housing around here,” Archange, 35, said through an interpreter. Sandla said her favorite subject is science and she hopes to become a pilot.

Sandla and her parents fled Haiti for Brazil several years ago, then made their way to Mexico before waiting several months to enter the U.S. at a legal border crossing in August, Archange said. The family recently applied for asylum.

Archange hopes to bring her son, Sandla’s twin, to the U.S. as well. He’s currently living with an aunt in the Dominican Republic.

Write to Jon Kamp at and Alicia A. Caldwell at

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