The Grit We Have!

Did you come to school without any experiences?

By now most of you have heard of Grit and that we need to teach grit to our students. Grit is what makes them stronger and stick with something. I propose that students are not void of Grit and that because we do not have knowledge of all of our student’s experiences we have missed out on being able to anchor to the Grit they already have. My proposal is that we study our students with greater challenges to gain awareness and recognition of Grit in the students we educate.

As we see our many children walk through our school building doors, people’s varied perspectives within those walls have great influence. We may see children from varied economic levels and experiences. There might be children from dysfunction or from wonderfully stable families. The fact is, we don’t always know what our children bring with them, and that might just be the invisible vehicle which determines a child’s access to success.

How we judge students based on our own understanding is what may hold us back from achieving high levels of success with all of our students. I propose the idea that we don’t always know the true value of the experiences and skills students bring with them. Their experiences might bubble up and express themselves in a manner that might seem challenging to the school setting.

One example that comes to mind is that of a 5th grade student who had difficulty when the teacher was providing specific directions for how and when to carry out certain tasks. The student would become angry and refuse to listen to the teacher. A constant opposition to adult direction and redirection became a vicious cycle of anger and upset which caused gaps in learning for the student.

As a team, worked to find the root cause for the display of behavior, we soon realized that the child was pressed to become the caregiver and was responsible for the running of the household as the parent worked shift work. The student was having to be a child with adult responsibilities at home and then had to give up having the final decision at school.

In other situations we have children who experienced hunger, hard labor, dealing with so many emotional stresses and have survived. Granted this survival is at a cost, we must still see that the GRIT they have is present and needs to be valued. They are not void of GRIT, we just may not recognize it.

Do you have stories of unrecognized GRIT?

Immigrant Juvenile Detainees:From Root to Fruit

As we contemplated our conversation, a friend and dedicated community leader, said “From Root to Fruit” that is what I hear from what you are talking about. (Thank you for the title Jose Muñoz, Director, Coalition for Community Schools Institute for Educational Leadership.) This discussion moved me to make this the theme for today’s blog.

According to the 1997 Flores settlement, which began as a class-action lawsuit, it lays out specific standards shelters must follow must provide “education services appropriate to the minor’s level of development and communication skills in a structured classroom setting.” Instruction must center primarily on developing “basic academic competencies and secondarily on English language training.” Subjects include science, social studies, math, reading, writing, and physical education. In this situation the Flores settlement agreement doesn’t apply to emergency shelters that open when there is an influx of children – those shelters are asked to provide services as feasible.

At its root, we know that early intervention and strong teachers certified in the areas of expertise in which they teach is an expectation for all U.S. students. After all, educators are responsible and held accountable for the variety of issues which include graduation rates, state assessments, attendance rates, English Language Proficiency improvement along with a plethora of other important functions. As we consider what we have learned as educators, I bring forth some cautionary words. One year with a bad teacher increases school drop outs, learning gaps as well as future earning income potential. In planning for these students to enter into our various school district, thoughtful school district leaders already have plans to support these immigrant students upon receiving them in their school districts.

In anticipation, there are many school districts ready to provide instruction and student supports for the detained juvenile while in HHS custody, but these school districts are not allowed to provide these services for students in HHS shelters. HHS shelters bare the responsibility of providing instruction for all detained children because education is part of the agreement for which each shelter is paid.

In K-12 schools, we can not make up for lost time as we wait for these HHS shelters to release them to the community to begin their education! Granted some students may be deported, some will age out and yet others might just not go to school at all, we could still use structures that are already in place in school districts to front load education for children in custody. But there is a hidden danger in doing so. That would be setting a precedent for providing unfunded services for which the federal government has the responsibility of fulfilling.

As HHS shelters are providing basic education, a question comes to mind. What is HHF definition of a basic education? Are the teachers certified in the areas of instruction they are providing? In FY 2018 49,100 Unaccompanied children were referred. In FY 2018, approximately 73 percent of all children referred were over 14 years of age, and over 71 percent were boys. In FY 2018, countries of origin of youth in this program were approximately as follows: Guatemala (54%); El Salvador (12%); Honduras (26%); and other (8%).
Just how long does it take for students to be processed through the ORR process? Who kind of basic education is being provided?

If you take a look at some specific information provided by the LAWS & GUIDANCE CIVIL RIGHTS Educational Services for Immigrant Children and Those Recently Arrived to the United States found at the Department of Education link,, there are some question responses that education leaders should be aware of. In particular pay close attention to the responses for Question 3 and Question 4.

Q3. Are children provided with basic education services while in temporary custody at HHS shelters?
A3. Yes. The children are provided with basic education services and activities by HHS grantees. Thus, these children do not enroll in local schools while living in HHS shelters.

Q4. Are children who arrived as unaccompanied children ever enrolled in local schools?
A4. While students are in HHS custody at HHS shelters, they will not be enrolled in the local school systems. When students are released to an appropriate sponsor, typically a parent, relative or family member, or other adult sponsor, while awaiting immigration proceedings, they have a right – just like other children living in their community – to enroll in local schools regardless of their or their parents’ actual or perceived immigration or citizenship status. State laws also require children to attend school up to a certain age. A small number of children in HHS custody are placed in long-term foster care instead of being released to a sponsor. These children do enroll in public school in the community where their foster care is located. Children in all other care settings receive education at an HHS facility.

So how are we going to prepare for students who end up in our public school systems? While these children remain in custody, they are falling even further behind. It was brought to surface that job postings for the shelters only required an education degree or related field but what about the rest? Are they even state certified school teachers? It is difficult to determine the level and quality of instruction while these children are in HHS custody. We expect so much of our teachers and we know the value of a strong teacher. Even BusinessWeek noted that “Spending a single year with a lower-quality teacher can cost a student tens of thousands–or even millions of dollars–in future lifetime earnings, according to reviewed research.”

In searching for jobs in shelters, this posting was advertised for job listed as “Teacher” on the site of one of the HHS approved shelters. No where on the job qualifications does it mandate a state certification nor does it state that it must be in the field of Education.

Qualifications and Requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree required in the field of Education or related field.
  • 1-2 years of paid or unpaid experience working with youth in a bilingual setting preferred.
  • Must be computer literate with working knowledge of Microsoft Windows (Word Perfect, Microsoft Word, Excel)
  • Must be able to work a flexible work schedule.
  • Cleared Tuberculosis test results.
  • Cleared background check from appropriate entity.
  • Bilingual
  • Cleared drug test results (this one is for Texas programs only).
  • Must be at least 21 years of age at the time of hire.

How will our readiness to provide instruction bear fruit when we know that most of the children are being provided a “basic education”.
As a caution, Julie Sugarman from Migration Policy Institute states that “These shelters were not intended to be providing extended education because the idea of the shelters was for kids to be there until they were released to the community.”

How long does that release to the community take? According to the Legal Aid Justice Center, the length of time children remain in ORR care has increased exponentially in the last few months as ORR has created more barriers to their release.  Policy, implemented in the Spring of 2018, required that sponsors who wanted to sign a child out of ORR custody and that they were to provide their own fingerprints and the fingerprints of every single person living in the household.  ORR is very clear to share that these fingerprints will be shared with ICE explicitly for the purpose of carrying out immigration enforcement.

As of January 2019, only the individual sponsor or parents are required to provide fingerprints as their prior policy of fingerprinting all individuals created longer delays in the process. Trying to reunify children with a parent or providing the custody to a sponsor will now take less time; however, individuals who are not in the country legally will hesitate to come forward for fear of deportation. At this point, we should be concerned with what will happen to children who are not claimed by a parent or sponsor?What about the concern of having a sponsor comes forth to claim a child that may have ill intent or perhaps a sponsor who has unfair leverage over a non-citizen parent.

Regardless of the process, shelters are being paid. But just how much are they paid. I found a site which provides information on collaborative agreement grants that fund detention shelters to children while in HHS custody. It provides the breakdown of federal dollars being paid to the these shelters.

Here is the breakdown of funds to be paid out.

II. Federal Award Information Funding Instrument Type:

Cooperative Agreement Estimated Total Funding: $500,000,000

Expected Number of Awards: 20

Award Ceiling: $100,000,000

Per Budget Period Award Floor: $4,000,000

Per Budget Period Average Projected Award Amount: $15,000,000 Per Budget Period

Anticipated Project Start Date: 10/01/2018

Length of Project Periods: Length of Project Period: 36-month project period with three 12- month budget periods

So there is the potential for children to remain detained for 36 months (3 years) or more. Why not have some of the federal funds that are being paid out redirected to some of the school district who are ready, willing and able to provide for educating the children who live in shelters within their school district boundaries. Although, not all children will remain in the US, there will be a significant number of students who will enter the education system. Why delay their education?

This sounds like a logical solution; but, here is the reality. We can’t set a precedent in having states and school districts providing an education for a situation that the federal government has created. It would be very difficult to calculate the exact cost to districts of providing a full education to students in shelters. It would be very unlikely that shelter providers could afford to cover the full amount and still provide adequate services in other areas under the provisions of the HHS as they are currently set up. Of school districts were to provide schooling for HHS shelter students, they would cause concern with resources that are already scarce, i.e. teachers, resources, services etc… ORR Shelters are responsible for providing a basic education for children who may eventually enter our K-12 school systems, so in the meanwhile, we wait. We wait to which students will remain in the U.S. and wait to see what state or school district in which the child will be residing.

We must look at the cruel reality in the face and realize that detained immigrant children will have to suffer through the illogical and lengthy process. School district leaders and teachers will have to prepare for the fallout. States, school district leaders and education will have to deal with ramifications of this detention process.

What are some solutions? There is no easy solution to this very challenging situation created by the policies of this federal government. We will need to remain steadfast in how we are going to ameliorate the real experiences of these detained juveniles; but, there must thoughtful planning for how and what will be provided once they walk through their new classroom doors. After all, the fruit we bear will be determined by the level of ownership and purposeful planning we focus on for these new students.

What can we do? At the state and local levels, potential preparation for these detained juveniles who will one day enter our school systems is extremely critical. 1. Set up New-Comer programs to help them connect and adjust into their new school and community, 2. Put training for Social and Emotional Learning competencies into play, 3. Intentionally plan for routes to career or college readiness, 4. Look at Title III funding and make certain it is used for these new arrivals. 5. Provide second language instruction that works. 6. Take advantage of federal supports provided to assist these new students.

At the national level, we can demand transparency and quality oversight for each of the shelters, including the emergency shelter in Tornillo, Tx. We can further demand that each ORR shelter be specific about the education provided for children while at these shelters so that we can best use this information for student planning. We can make a difference. Let’s anticipate for effective strategies that will yield the best possible outcome.

What are your thoughts for planning ahead?

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

If you are a Latinx leader, aspiring leader or student, I look forward in joining in an exchange of ideas and solutions. I’d like to focus on themes that really make a difference in the education leadership world.

Here is a quick item to discuss. I’ll share my thoughts and reflect on how the ideas impact our actions as we lead in K-12 schools.

Let’s move from seeing coding as the height of our technology programs. This in no way means that I am anti coding programs in K-12 schools. It is the idea that we might be caught keeping coding as the ceiling to the opportunities in technology we provide to our students.

College and Career Readiness is a priority for school districts; however, we must be careful that we do not feel a false sense of security into believing that Coding programs are the end all when it comes to technology opportunity. Coding programs are excellent skills that should be embedded into school curriculum beginning in the K of K-12 schools. But is coding the glass ceiling we should be concerned with? Are our students going to be globally competitive with coding programs alone?

Globally competitive and talented individuals are sought after by large technology organizations like Amazon, Apple, Dell etc… During this last quarter Amazon announced its opening in Crystal City a.k.a. National Landing, what I found interesting as I perused the current job vacancies was the fact that they moved to VA to meet the need of technology talent.

The job vacancy categories allow for a quick view their needs. One of the lowest number of job category vacancies was in Design with 314 vacancies. Software Development vacancies indicated that as of 12/20/2018, 6,804 were still in search of talented individuals to fill those positions.

As I consider Latinx individuals in technology, are we as leaders preparing our students for financially lucrative careers or are we limiting our students to lower paying, lower skill technology ceilings. Should we be considering apprenticeships and collaborating with technology companies that will help us to engage in solutions to increase a coordinated effort of technology talent?

Yours Truly,

Nancy Lewin, Ed.D.

ALAS Executive Director

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton