Editorial: Thinking creatively for kids, but with no compensation

Administrators with the Riverhead Central School District and Eastern Suffolk BOCES should be commended for putting together a creative, pragmatic approach to a unique problem precipitated by last summer’s influx of young people fleeing violence-torn regions of Central America.

And they did it on relatively short notice. 

It wasn’t long into the 2014-15 school year that educators realized there were some newcomers that regular school districts just weren’t prepared to handle. Not only did these teens speak no English, they arrived having received little formal education in their native countries. As one BOCES administrator said this week, some of these students even have difficulty with their native Spanish, never mind learning a second language, and therefore have virtually no hope of ever earning a Regents Diploma. Many found themselves in classes for which they were woefully unprepared. Some dropped out. Admitting they could not give these students the help they needed, David Wicks, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Riverhead school district, and officials from other districts approached BOCES.

After several planning meetings, a new program of evening classes was conceived. It’s called the Eastern Suffolk BOCES Alternative High School English Language Learner Program.

Yes, that’s a mouthful, but this unique, and completely optional, program gives these students the opportunity to learn English and math in a more academically appropriate setting. They’ll also learn vocational skills that will help them be productive in the workforce.

Of course, this doesn’t come without cost. The program is tuition-based, meaning that participating districts must pay BOCES for the students they send there.

Before this school year, nearly 4,250 of what became known as “border children” ended up in New York State, according to 2014 data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ office of refugee resettlement. Almost 2,200 of them ended up in Suffolk County. Yet county schools have thus far received little or no financial support to help them absorb and assist these students.

Our local educational leaders put politics aside to handle a problem using common sense. It’s lamentable that common sense hasn’t also prevailed in Congress when it comes to fixing a broken immigration system.

As a symbolic gesture, the Riverhead school district should send carbon copies of its BOCES tuition payments to Washington as well.