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Munich Schools Scramble To Accomodate Migrant Children


Teachers and administrators in Munich, Germany, are scrambling to make space for new students - the thousands of children who are among the migrants arriving there daily. Their parents are eager to get them enrolled for the start of school next Tuesday. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has this report from the Bavarian capital.


SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Migrant children cling to their parents as they disembark in Munich central station. Many look frightened and are worn out from their long and often dangerous journey. Bavarian officials are still counting how many children have come. Minors who are asylum-seekers and are assigned to Munich by law have to start school here within three months, but their parents are impatient. The ones NPR interviewed say their top priority is for their children to start school even sooner. One is Syrian Salma Alarja, who arrived here Monday with her husband and three children, the oldest of which is 6.

SALMA ALARJA: The most important thing is the education. They have to learn the language first. I want from the German government to help him, give him the things they need. Let them learn in their school, feel safe.

NELSON: Munich school officials say they are preparing to accommodate 360 new students between the ages of 6 and 16 in what are known as transitional classes. They teach German language and culture and also get migrant children caught up on math and other subjects so they can be integrated into regular classes. Officials say if more classes are needed, they will need more money to hire more teachers. Refugee advocates here predict the 18 new transitional classes, which are a 20 percent increase over last year, won't be enough

MONIKA STEINHAUSER: I've seen many children.

NELSON: That's Monika Steinhauser who heads the Munich Refugee Council and has been helping the arriving families here at the train station.

STEINHAUSER: At first, I think they just have to calm down and start feeling safe, which takes a long time. And after that, yes, they have to have some kind of normality, and going to school is normality, so this is very important.

NELSON: Even before the recent spike in new arrivals, Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees says there were more than 34,000 asylum-seekers between the ages of 6 and 16 across the country during the first half of the year. Michael Stenger is the founder of SchlaU-Schule, which are private schools that have helped integrate young refugees into Munich society over the past 15 years.

MICHAEL STENGER: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: Stenger says German teachers are completely overwhelmed because the system was never set up to integrate migrant students. He adds that even now very few teachers are trained to help students who aren't native German speakers. In Munich, those students account for as many as 2 out of every 5 elementary students these days. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Munich.

CORNISH: Oregon Public Broadcasting's David Blanchard contributed to that report. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.