Testimony: How We Can Better Serve Newcomer Immigrant Students in New York City – Next100
Commentary   Education & Early Years

Testimony: How We Can Better Serve Newcomer Immigrant Students in New York City

Older newcomer immigrant youth suffer today from inadequate access to quality education. New York City can help improve their educational and career outcomes by investing in a transfer school pilot program.

On March 30, 2020, Next100 policy entrepreneur Rosario Quiroz Villarreal submitted testimony to the New York City Council Committee on Education for their preliminary budget hearing on education. In the testimony, a version of which you can read below, she outlines the need for a transfer school pilot program to address the gaps in education that exist for older newcomer immigrant youth in the city.


Chair Treyger and members of the Committee on Education,

“Veía esa pared de diplomas y pensaba yo quiero que me represente a mí.” I thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony. My name is Rosario Quiroz Villarreal and I am a policy entrepreneur working at the intersection of immigration and education at Next100. I am guided in my work by my former experience as a teacher. Next100 is a startup think tank created for—and by—the next generation of policy leaders. We envision a future in which the policy space is inclusive of and driven by a diverse set of the next generation’s thinkers and doers, who are developing creative, rigorous, and relevant policy ideas, with a focus on translating these ideas into tangible change. In partnership with ImmSchools, I am also a program facilitator delivering Know Your Rights workshops in public schools throughout the five boroughs to parents and students. ImmSchools is an immigrant-led non-profit organization that partners with K–12 schools and educators to support undocumented students and families by leading professional development, immigrant-centered workshops, and organizing for immigrant-friendly policies.

It is imperative that amidst the current anti-immigrant rhetoric permeating the federal landscape, even during our current crisis stemming from COVID-19 and the emerging response that excludes portions of the immigrant community from protections, New York City continue to show up as a leader and champion for immigrant communities. This means consistently providing for the education of all immigrant youth, while simultaneously setting forth examples that the rest of the state and the country can look to.

I am writing to draw your attention to a particularly promising enterprise in this essential civic responsibility: a transfer school pilot program for older, newcomer immigrant students, the concept of which was developed over the last year as part of the New York Immigration Coalition’s Education Collaborative. The Education Collaborative is uniquely positioned to design a successful pilot program because it represents a group of organizations working towards improving the educational outcomes of our immigrant student population. These community-based organizations house the expertise to address the needs of newcomer youth because they intentionally think about, and are accountable to, them through regular, constructive interaction. The transfer school pilot program would serve to address the serious educational gaps that immigrant newcomer students in New York City currently face.

The Need

The New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) defines “newcomer” students as those who have been in the United States for three years or less. A recent data analysis by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), based on information from the U.S. Census Bureau, found that New York City is home to approximately 4,200 high school-aged (14–21) newcomer immigrant youth who are not enrolled in school here and who do not already have a high school diploma. Over 90 percent of those youth are between the ages of 16 and 21. Member organizations of the Education Collaborative provide students with direct service support throughout the enrollment process, and so they know firsthand that youth within that age range rarely find adequate educational placements that allow them to thrive.

These young people have no time to lose. They must learn English and meet their graduation requirements before they turn 21 and age out of the system. Transfer schools respond exactly to these needs: they are institutions that specialize in helping older and under-credited students graduate from high school through rigorous programming and culturally responsive wrap-around supports. New York City has fifty-one transfer schools; however, only five are equipped to adequately serve older, recently arrived English learners. And of those five, only one—ELLIS Prep in South Bronx—is not located in lower Manhattan. For youth to successfully enroll in school and graduate, the city must be equipped with quality options in all the boroughs, especially those with the highest immigrant populations—Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. We are doing a disservice to newcomer youth by not having transfer schools in close proximity to where those they’re serving are most likely to live.

The Pilot Program

It’s clear that we need to better equip New York’s transfer schools, and especially the ones outside of Manhattan, to serve the needs of older, newcomer immigrant youth; and the Education Collaborative’s pilot transfer program will do just that. The program was developed in conversation with the DOE, and would do the following:

  • Fund English as a New Language teachers in transfer schools.
  • Prepare all educators to support older newcomer immigrant students through robust professional development, and in partnership with community-based organizations.
  • Provide culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy and curricula.
  • Create a trauma-informed school environment that provides bilingual, bicultural counselors to support all students.

All of these policies are critical for students and for the educators who invest in them day in and out. As a former educator, I know that I wanted to be able to serve every student, and when I knew better, I did better. I’ve continued to see this as a program facilitator with ImmSchools: everyone we work with is enthusiastic about the involvement. Administrators currently don’t have the capacity to provide those supports, and so are excited to learn that we support educators in developing their practices for working with immigrant students and families, and that we support their students and families in knowing and advocating for their educational rights. Educators want to be able to serve all students in their classroom, but currently, best practices aren’t being implemented consistently, enough or the structures are not in place for them to confidently discern what works with older newcomer students. The pilot program will work to address that gap while developing a roadmap of the practices that New York City schools beyond those in the pilot program should adopt.

As a former educator, I know that I wanted to be able to serve every student, and when I knew better, I did better.

For all these crucial changes to happen, we need the City Council to provide financial support for this critical initiative. The pilot program needs a $6 million investment over three years to welcome older immigrant youth to school, and to give youth in the system access to supportive programs close to where they live and work. This $6 million will not only allow us to immediately invite in and better serve 600 youth who are currently out of school: it will also allow us to develop best practices and increase capacity to reach the remaining 3,600 immigrant newcomer youth who are not currently in school, and thereby work towards improving the 35 percent graduation rate for NYC’s English learners.

What if, as a baseline, every educator in this pilot program was equipped with the training, best practices, and supportive structures to do what’s best for older, newcomer students? If they did, we could ensure that these students, who for far too long have lagged in their access to quality education, have a better chance at improving their educational and career outcomes. New York City as a larger community stands to benefit from such an investment in these young people’s success. Our older newcomer student population need committed champions to work on their behalf. They should not be made to wait any longer.

Respectfully,
Rosario Quiroz Villarreal

About the Author

Portrait of Rosario Villarreal, she has straight black hair, tortoise shell glasses, and a wide smile.
Rosario Quiroz Villarreal Education & Early Years

Rosario Quiroz Villarreal is an advocate for immigrants and students. Growing up as an undocumented immigrant, Rosario understood that her parents made sacrifices in moving to a new country in order to secure better opportunities for the future. At Next100, Rosario focuses on protecting the rights and access to education of immigrant students, creating more culturally inclusive classrooms, and interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline.

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