Students rallying on April 24, 2024 in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project.

Overview:

Education advocates, led by the Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project, rally for the creation of additional transfer schools in Brooklyn and Queens, tailored to the needs of older immigrant students. Highlighting challenges faced by students as young as 17, advocates emphasize the necessity of these specialized institutions to provide essential support for immigrant youth navigating the NYC public school system.

A group of education advocates are calling on New York City officials to do more for older immigrant students in the city’s sprawling public school system.

On April 24, Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project (Flanbwayan), a nonprofit focused on education justice for Haitian and immigrant students, led a rally at Flatbush Junction in Brooklyn to call on Mayor Eric Adams, New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks, and the Office of Multilingual Learners to open three new transfer high schools in Brooklyn and Queens to support the needs of older immigrant students who’ve recently arrived in the city.

“These schools are experts in educating immigrants,” said Darnelle Benoit, executive director of Flanbwayan. “They know exactly what they’re doing and what to give students for them to thrive that other schools are not doing.”

In April, Banks announced nine new schools opening in the fall, offering a “mix of elementary, middle, and high school programs across three of the city’s boroughs,” Chalkbeat reported. The schools include a Brooklyn location of Bard Early College High School, a high school for careers in film and television in Queens, and an elementary school modeled on Brooklyn New School.

However, Benoit believes that the new schools are a misuse of the city’s resources and are not tailored to serving multilingual students – an important misstep given the influx of migrants entering the city.

“Why are you opening nine new schools when there’s a need for immigrant students right now,” she said to Go West Now. “They’re continuing the systemic failures and marginalization of immigrant students. These schools are needed. What’s going to happen in September? The migrants aren’t going to stop entering the city.”

What are transfer schools?

Transfer High Schools are small, full-time high schools for students 16 - 21 years old dedicated to supporting students who have dropped out or fallen behind in credits. The schools are academically rigorous and typically attract immigrant students new to the city.

The transfer schools are broken into five categories based on the needs of the individual student:

Category 1: I’m behind on credits

Category 2: I’m very behind on credits

Category 3: I’m learning English

Category 4: I’m behind on credits and interested in special programming

Category 5: I have never been to high school


Many new Haitian immigrants seek transfer schools because they’ve never attended school in the United States before and are learning English.

“There are only four transfer schools in the city that are tailored to support older immigrant students. Three in Manhattan and 1 in the Bronx,” Benoit said. “This leaves no options for, for example, Haitian immigrant students in Brooklyn and Queens. They have to travel out of the borough.

“There are international network schools, but those schools are for students 14 years old.”

Steering students away from schools?

It’s a common occurrence for immigrant students as young as 17 to be refused enrollment in NYC public high schools, Benoit said.

“For immigrant students, once they pass 17, they have problems finding high schools to enroll them. Schools don’t want to look bad if their graduation rates surpass four years.”

According to the city Department of Education’s website, students 16 - 21 behind on credits are steered toward transfer schools. The website highlights that “many transfer schools are flexible about who they admit.”

“Just like the general population for students born here, that age group, these students that are under-credited and 17 in the ninth grade. That’s the population of students that struggle in the public school system [without] any support,” Benoit said. “They’re the ones that fall through the cracks.”

Haitian community leaders are also ensuring that language access needs for recent Haitian arrivals are met. In a meeting with Adams on May 3, they echoed Flanbwayan’s calls for increased support for newly arrived Haitian migrants. From the meeting, an early framework for a cyberlearning plan for adult learners was conceptualized.

Click on a circle to examine language access programs in each borough and grade level.

Under the plan, the city would allow new Haitian migrants to participate in virtual English Language Learner (ELL) courses in local schools where there are large numbers of Haitian immigrants and new migrants in the community.

“We’re going to allow teachers to use video conferences to start teaching English as a second language right here,” Adams said in an interview with Go West Now, “and identify the schools, identify the locations, allow people to come in, get free materials, and free access to an instructor.

“In the schools, we already have these resources,” the mayor said. “We now have to give those resources to folks who are trying to find employment but don’t have the basic tool of English.”

For Benoit, she knows how powerful access to education is.

“When these students go to schools like the four I mentioned, bel bagay (beautiful work),” she said emphatically in English and Haitian Creole. “They graduate. They go to college. They get a career.

“There’s so much more that a young immigrant needs that's different than the rest of the general population of students here. These are the schools we want and are going to fight for until we get them.”

Additional reporting by Macollvie J. Neel.

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