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More than 20,000 new migrant students have enrolled in Miami-Dade County schools


More than 20,000 new immigrant students have enrolled in Miami-Dade County public schools this year. Officials say it's a historic increase that's helping the school district grow for the first time in two decades. Reporter Kate Payne from member station WLRN tells us how that's affecting one school.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Good morning, Ms. Bruscantini.

BRUSCANTINI: Good morning.

KATE PAYNE, BYLINE: The week I visited Emelia Bruscantini's class at Milam K-8 Center, she had just gotten a brand new student.

BRUSCANTINI: We just have one new one this week.

PAYNE: This week. Aww.

BRUSCANTINI: Hi, Emeline. Good?

Just came in Tuesday.


BRUSCANTINI: Yeah. And I have another one that came in on - last week, but she went to the doctor to get her shots today.

PAYNE: Most of the district's new immigrant students are from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela. A recent Biden administration program allows people from those countries to stay legally and work for two years. This school in the city of Hialeah had been underenrolled for a decade. Now it's nearly at capacity, and Bruscantini says these students need help.

BRUSCANTINI: Some of these kids didn't know their ABCs in second grade.

PAYNE: Even in their own language or their primary language?

BRUSCANTINI: Some of them in their language. But remember COVID. Some of them in their own countries couldn't go to school, so we have to kind of go down to their level so that we can add skills.


PAYNE: The principal of this school, Anna Hernandez, says she's never seen a spike like this one.

ANNA HERNANDEZ: It's just honestly, like, sometimes I come into the lobby, and there'll be - like, the families are all over the place, like, just, you know, waiting.

PAYNE: One of the first things they do is talk to a school counselor like Lorena Liscano, and she says they talk about more than just academics.

LORENA LISCANO: We like to meet with the families, and we like to get a little bit of a family history and kind of ask where are they living? What resources do they have? What resources do they need, and how can we help them?

PAYNE: Many of the students also get weekly counseling. Principal Hernandez says the dangerous track her students took to get here is still traumatizing some of them.

HERNANDEZ: I was talking to a teacher the other day, and she was telling me how one of her students was sitting, like, to take a test. Like, he just didn't seem like he was engaged at all. And then he started telling her how when he was coming, he had to go through a river. And it was like almost, like, up to his face. She was like, you know what? Like, I can understand why he's not engaged in taking a test right now.

PAYNE: Many of the new students simply need more support at a time when the district was already struggling to hire enough teachers.

RON STEIGER: It certainly puts a stress on our finances.

PAYNE: Ron Steiger is the chief financial officer for Miami-Dade Schools. There are costs in the short term, but he says these students are helping the district chart a new future.

STEIGER: We lost enrollment in our schools every single year for 20 straight years, but this year we didn't. It is absolutely one of the factors that is helping us see growth in our traditional schools again.

PAYNE: That's if the district can help these students and their families stay and build a new life here. For NPR News, I'm Kate Payne in Hialeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate Payne is an Iowa City-based reporter for Iowa Public Radio. Before she came to the Hawkeye State she was a reporter and fill-in host for WFSU, the NPR member station in Tallahassee, Florida. Kate has won awards for her political and feature reporting and her sound editing.