PS 189 The Bilingual Center, school, haitian
Undated photo of a hallway inside P.S. 189 - The Bilingual Center in Brooklyn, New York, where students can learn in multiple languages, including Creole. Photo courtesy of InsideSchools.


The author of “College Still Matters: From ELL to Ed.D” writes that arriving migrants must take advantage of resources available for them, more than ever before, to get acclimated in America.

By Dr. Frantz Dorsainvil

NEW YORK—In the face of what’s being called the ‘migrant crisis’ in the United States, one thing worth pointing out is that as far as education opportunities are concerned, right now is the best time yet for Haitian and other migrant students.  

If you reside in major cities like New York City, for example, this period is good for newcomers. For one, the NYC Department of Education (DOE) has revitalized its bilingual program to provide access to more than 1,000 English Language Learners (ELLs). Plus, the DOE has more than 50 bilingual education programs in 12 different languages – including transitional bilingual education, where students learn mostly in their home language and over time transition to learning mostly in English. In recent years, there has also been stronger advocacy for dual language education. 

With all these resources before us, I believe that migrant students arriving now stand to benefit greatly. In this new era, it is crucial for families and students to know and understand that they have resources and the support of elected officials and community-based organizations to help them as they transition into their local schools – and in America.

From ESL to ELL, how far we’ve come

To explain further, let’s think back to decades ago when my generation arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s. Compared to then, today’s educational opportunities are in vast contrast to what has historically been an area of significant deficit and strife. 

In the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, in my experience, Haitian immigrants were not as welcomed in schools. Many schools had very few resources and instructional support for Haitian students. The English as a Second Language (ESL) program—which had been referred to as English Native Learners (ENL) and as of recently English Language Learners (ELL)—was the only support available for the Haitians and very few bilingual programs in the inner city. 

I refer to that instructional framework as “sink or swim” or “najè pou soti.” With the only support available for Haitian students being the ESL teacher, Haitian students had no other choice but to quickly acquire the English language as a basic survival skill. For those entering as a high schooler, the struggle continued into post-secondary education. 

Due to the gaps in the provision of resources, many of these students had to expend a significant amount of time to master the English language. Some enrolled in remedial courses in order to achieve their educational goals. Others dropped out due to frustration, the inability to absorb the cost of non-credit bearing courses or both. 

I refer to that instructional framework as “sink or swim” or “najè pou soti.”

A recent correspondence from the statewide department to school officials across New York reminded them: “As an unprecedented number of students and families arrive in our schools, we remind school districts that they are legally required to treat all students equally.” Meaning that new enrollees are entitled to equal access as all district students. The note also reminded recipients of the U.S. Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, that confirmed non-citizens’ children are entitled to such because they “cannot affect neither their parents’ conduct nor their own status.”

For example, in 1990 to 1991, the Central Board of Education reported there were about 120,000 children in bilingual programs in New York City. The majority of the students were Hispanic and taught in Spanish.

But there were also bilingual programs taught in Chinese, Creole, Russian, Korean and 11 other languages. As educators continue to figure out the instructional programs for our students, so do the debates regarding the effectiveness of bilingual education. In recent years, there is a stronger advocacy for dual language education. Our migrant students will benefit from all the resources in the education system.

A recent news report shared that New York’s DEO has more than 500 bilingual education programs, in 12 different languages. That includes transitional bilingual education – where students learn mostly in their home language and transition to learning mostly in English – and dual language education, which means subjects are taught in two languages. In addition, the “revitalization” of the bilingual programs will give access to more than 1,000 English language learners. 

Take advantage of resources, organizations

I believe there needs to be a public campaign to inform parents about their rights, to advocate and to assist families dealing with barriers at their local schools. 

It is crucial that community organizations continue to partner with school districts in order to inform our families of these programs. So often our Haitian families are not informed about the resources and opportunities that are available to them. The acculturation process for our families will be a difficult process. However, the support of established community based organizations like HAUP, LOH, DCS, Flamboyan, HCC and others will contribute to the success of our families acclimating  in the states. 

Many institutions, such as the NYU/Steinhardt – Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, also provide a plethora of resources for families and students. The DOE’s English Learner Parents’ Bill of Rights is a one page fact sheet which summarizes key rights concerning educational access and programming for ELLs and their parents. It also includes guidance. specifically for parents of English Learners in New York State, why parents should choose bilingual education and assessment. They are all available in several languages, including Creole. 

We should encourage families to connect with their local community based organizations to help them with translation and advocacy. We are all in this  together, as the influx of migrants will have an impact on all of us.
Despite the many challenges that migrant families face, students are still in better hands than they were two decades ago with the increased funding for ELL, bilingual and dual language education. The success of arriving migrant students will be based on their resiliency, determination, hard work and a positive mindset. With these resources, their success is that much more assured.

Frantz Duval

Dr. Frantz Dorsainvil is an assistant school principal in Long Island, New York, author of “College Still Matters” – an inspirational book for high school and immigrant students – adjunct professor at New York University and founder of the Gift of Writing Foundation.  

He is a former school counselor, teacher, and community advocate who has been in the field of education for almost three decades. Dr. Dorsainvil is also Founder and Principal of Dorsainvil Consulting, LLC, which provides support to families, school districts and community organizations.

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