School’s out and NYC migrant families face a summer of uncertainty

NEW YORK — When Damien Carchipulla started his first school year in New York City in September, the first grader’s family was living in a Manhattan hotel for migrant families.

In the 10 months since, the family of four from Ecuador has moved shelters three times under a policy Mayor Eric Adams imposed in the fall that limits the number of days migrants can stay in a single place. Every 60 days they must give up their shelter beds and reapply for housing or leave the system.

With a fourth move expected in a matter of weeks, Damien’s mother Kimberly Carchipulla hopes the family isn’t pulled too far from the 6-year-old’s school in Harlem this summer. Her son is set to attend a summer program starting in July.

“A lot has changed because new laws were put in place,” Carchipulla said in Spanish while picking up Damien after school one day. “They get stressed. They get upset. Every 60 days, it’s a new home.”

The New York City school year ended Wednesday, but for thousands of migrant families the shuffle from shelter to shelter continues. With it come the concerns about how they’ll navigate their children’s education needs, both this summer and into the next school year.

“These families were already coming in with a great deal of trauma, which was impacting their children’s attendance at school and their ability to engage once they’re there,” said Sarah Jonas, a vice president at Children’s Aid, a nonprofit that provides mentoring, health services and after-school programs at city schools. “With that added burden of the 60-day rule, we’ve seen even more disruption for our families getting these eviction notices and all of the anxiety that comes with that.”

Like the Carchipullas, most families chose to stick with the same school through the year, even if they were reassigned to shelters in a different part of the city. The tradeoff for many was longer and more complex commutes, leading to children who were exhausted before the school day even started. Absenteeism spiked too, as parents struggled to get their children to school on time.

Carchipulla, who is 23, counts her family among the lucky ones: the three moves they made during the school year were all to other midtown Manhattan hotels, so her son’s daily commute remained relatively the same.

For the grandchildren of Rosie Arias, the moves were more disruptive.

The 55-year-old from Ecuador said her daughter arrived in January with her 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. They were immediately placed in a shelter and enrolled in a local school where Spanish was widely spoken.

But when their 60 days ran out, they had to move to another shelter and transfer to another school, Arias said. Then when the family secured their own apartment in Brooklyn, the children had to switch schools again, this time to a smaller one where few people spoke Spanish.

“As a grandmother, I’m worried. The children don’t want to go to school. They’re not adjusting because of the language and because they don’t have friends.,” Arias said in Spanish. “They cry.”

School officials didn’t have a final tally for how many migrant students were affected by the shelter time limits.

As of the first week of May, 44% of migrant students had remained in the same shelter and same school since February 14, according to Tamara Mair, a senior director with Project Open Arms, the district’s program supporting asylum seekers and other new students in temporary housing.

Another 40% of migrant students moved shelters but remained enrolled at the same school, while 4% moved both schools and shelters, she said. Roughly 10% left the school system entirely, with the “vast majority” of those dropping out because they left the city.

District officials will be keeping tabs on migrant families in the shelters through the summer, Mair said.

“The one thing we want to remain constant for our kids is school,” she said. “But we also want to support our families with their choices, because the families have the right to remain in their school, or they may choose to go to a new school closer to their new residence.”

Adams, a Democrat, instituted shelter limits to encourage migrant families to leave the city’s emergency shelter system, which includes huge tent shelters and converted hotels that have swollen with thousands of newcomers to the U.S.

Over the summer, more needs to be done to prepare newly arriving families for the next school year, immigrant advocates say.

That includes better outreach to migrant parents and more investment in translation services, said Liza Schwartzwald, a director at the New York Immigration Coalition.

Schools also need more specialists to assess and help get migrant students up to grade level in their studies, said Natasha Quiroga, director of education policy at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

Damien Carchipulla’s mother remains optimistic about her son’s future.

Eventually, she said, the family hopes to save up enough money for their own place, perhaps in Queens, where her husband recently found steady work.

“He is learning more and more every day,” Kim Carchipulla said of her son. “Even if he misses school, his teacher tells me, he catches up quickly.”

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