An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Denver schools adapt to the huge numbers of migrants resettling in the area


It's not just border cities that have been struggling to respond to huge numbers of migrants entering the U.S. from Mexico in recent years. Denver has seen at least a couple of big waves, and enough migrants have stayed that the number of multilingual students in local public schools has more than doubled since 2020. Colorado Public Radio's Kevin Beaty reports on how the system is adapting.


KEVIN BEATY, BYLINE: In a school cafeteria, Denver Public Schools' multilingual education department is throwing an end-of-the-year party for their students. They help all newly arrived kids work on their English and navigate classes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We've provided over 20 different languages - interpretation for over 20 different languages for our families. These languages have been Spanish, Arabic, Amharic, Nepali, Somali.

BEATY: Last December, thousands of asylum seekers, many from Venezuela, came into Denver with little notice. The city declared a state of emergency and set up temporary shelters. And while officials estimate around 70% left for other cities, those who stayed began to build their lives here. The school district served almost 1,500 newcomers in this last year, twice as many as before the pandemic. And the kids come from all over the world, like Seabeh Amiri from Afghanistan.

SEABEH AMIRI: (Speaking Dari).

BEATY: "It was hard at first, but I know I have a future here," she says, thanks both to the education available and the dedicated liaison who helped her and her three siblings land on their feet. The district has offered similar services to the hundreds of families who have arrived in Denver over the last six months. Sary Portillo helped coordinate their response.

SARY PORTILLO: We've been meeting with families in shelters. We've met them in hotels. So when we had this large influx, we had at some points, like, 15, 20 students at a time that we had to register.

BEATY: But their work is not just about getting kids in the door. The department had to prep teachers to deal with intense trauma that some students brought with them after they cross deserts and jungles to get here.

PORTILLO: That gave us opportunities to make sure that families felt welcome, that they felt safe, that they felt secure.

BEATY: It was a huge effort and difficult. Some teachers struggle to accommodate their new students. But Portillo says it's the district's duty to make this transition for them as easy as possible.

PORTILLO: Immigration is not something I can control, and I don't know what will happen in the next couple years, right? But they're here. And if they're here, they're our future. So how are we preparing these kids and our families to better our future in our country?

BEATY: She and her colleagues hope that, in time, this year's new arrivals will soon be like Seabeh Amiri, comfortable in class and starting to take agency over their own futures.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK, round of applause for the sisters.

BEATY: For NPR News, I'm Kevin Beaty in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Beaty