The Challenge of Schooling…
About 11% of Ulster County residents are in Latinx families where a language other than English is spoken at home. Among asylum seekers from El Salvador or Guatemala that language may well be an indigenous one, rather than Spanish. As it has been for generations of immigrants, in-person public school is a major resource helping children to acquire English and other skills that enable them to be at home in their new country.
Virtual instruction has cut off the direct and informal conversation that builds language mastery. In addition, homes and neighborhoods may lack consistent — or sometimes any — internet access. Where there are many children in the house, virtual instruction schedules sometimes conflict. Then too, parents on meager incomes must stay home from work when their children are not in school.
Since its inception, UIDN has maintained outreach to parents, kids, teachers, and school administrators. When Covid forced closure of in-person schooling, we had to end an after-school program for 30 children at Chambers Elementary in Kingston. Even so, volunteers continued to see the children in their neighborhoods for many months.
UIDN volunteers in New Paltz have designed and launched Reading Together, an online one-on-one program for elementary-aged students. Volunteers and children meet weekly for half an hour over six weeks and then each partner decides whether to continue the weekly sessions. Seven children and their adult partners are in the first group. Many more volunteers are ready to work with additional children.
Meanwhile, our conversations with school personnel continue. In Kingston the superintendent has invited a UIDN representative to join an advisory group on coping with the impact of the pandemic. In New Paltz the deputy superintendent and UIDN volunteers work together to reach and support the immigrant community.
Looking ahead, we can see a need for more after-school support and tutoring — in person or online — to help overcome this period. We are grateful that school staff and administrators are navigating this period of intense uncertainty and aggravation, keeping their eyes on the goal of serving the children, and collaborating with UIDN volunteers to that end.
If you or someone you know needs childcare or a supportive learning place for school-aged kids, see UIDN’s list of affordable options.