NYC school uses crossing guard, food workers, 5-year-olds to translate for migrant kids
A Queens school became so overwhelmed with migrant kids last week that it grabbed a Spanish-speaking crossing guard off the street, cafeteria workers from the food line — and even 5-year-old students — to help translate in classrooms, staffers and parents told The Post on Tuesday.
Administrators at PS 31 in Bayside were given mere hours to prepare for the nearly four dozen, newly arrived migrant children who came to the school over two days to be enrolled, the sources said.
The city reportedly notified the principal about the new students’ arrival that Wednesday afternoon. The next morning, migrant families staying at the nearby Anchor Inn were lined up outside the school to begin registering their children.
Four tables had to be set up in the school lobby for the parents and kids — most of whom speak next to no English — to be processed.
The influx was too much for the school, which has only two “English as a New Language’’ teachers on staff.
Anybody who could speak Spanish within the school community was called in to translate for the new students in classrooms, with lessons having to be stopped short for the task.
Translators have included a bilingual school crossing guard, school food workers — and even kindergartners, teachers and parents said.
“These kids would be eating their lunches, and they’d be called away to do translation and they also have to do their work in the classroom while helping with translation,’’ a mom said.
Parents told The Post they are worried about how the stop-and-go in the classroom might affect their children’s learning experience, while adding they are angry over the alleged lack of warning that city officials gave the school to prepare.
The Anchor Inn began housing migrant families earlier this month, according to city Councilwoman Vickie Paladino. School employees said most of the new students have been living at the inn and were commuting by foot to and from the school each day.
Paladino, who represents Bayside, said the migrant families had nothing when they arrived at the hotel and that PS 31 organized a drive to gather clothing, food and toiletries for them.
“It’s depressing. Things need to change,” she told The Post.
Staff said the school administration is doing its best, with everybody trying to meet the challenge that was dropped on them.
State Sen. John Liu, whose district includes PS 31, insisted that “the situation is not desperate,” adding the school is “adequately dealing with the situation.”
But Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said the situation reveals shortcomings in the school system that the city Department of Education needs to address.
The migrant crisis is doing to the education system what the COVID-19 pandemic did to the healthcare system, he said.
“There’s clearly a shortage of bilingual teachers citywide. I’ve heard directly from principals,” he told The Post. “There’s a lack of infrastructure. The migrant crisis has exposed the lack of infrastructure. This issue is not going away. We have to be creative.
“The schools are doing everything in their power to help these kids. But there are not enough resources. This is something the DOE should have been looking at proactively.”
A DOE rep said in a statement, “As we have been doing since Day One, our staff will continue to be on the ground, helping families enroll their children in schools that are in close proximity to where they are staying, and that offer the language resources they need. Programming for English Language Learners will be expanded as needed, and schools will continue to be supported by social workers who are trained in trauma-informed practices.
“We will also continue to provide transportation for K-6 students in temporary housing and will work closely with district and school leaders to add routes as needed.”