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Germantown Student Tells Board of Education of Difficulties as Unaccompanied Minor



Nahum Velasquez.png

At the age of 16, Nahum Velasquez left his family and emigrated from El Salvador to Montgomery County. He is now an 18-year-old 10th grader attending Seneca Valley High School. On Monday, March 10, Velasquez testified before the Montgomery County Board of Education as the Board addressed the issue of how MCPS is dealing with an increasing number of unaccompanied minors entering the school system.

Velasquez said he was excited after enrolling at Seneca Valley High School shortly after arriving in Montgomery County. “Very quickly, however, I was made to feel different and not valued. My first day in my ESOL class, my teacher sighed and said: ‘not another one.’ In a very annoyed tone, she told me that she did not understand why so many people were coming from my country, and asked me what was going on there.”

Hesaid that it was the first of many similar comments from teachers and students. Velasquez went on tell the Board about a physical education teacher who told him that the reason he was a good jumper was because he learned to jump “while crossing the border.”

“It is in this environment that Latino students try to survive,” said Velasquez. “And although we may seek support, we often times are not given the attention we need.” He told the Board about guidance counselors turning him away, stating they did not have time for his questions because they were overwhelmed with the number of students assigned to them.

He said tutoring services at the school never seem to have enough tutors, and when there were tutors available they ignore ESOL students. He also said he was bullied and mocked as he struggled to learn English.

“I began to feel very sad and uncomfortable at school, like I didn’t belong there. It is already a huge challenge to move to a place with a completely different language and culture. To be made fun constantly for trying my hardest to succeed in this school system has made this experience even more challenging. I have come to the conclusion that the Latinos, particularly recently arrived Latinos, are not considered as important as other students—pretty much seen as students that will not be successful, and are treated as such. It often feels as though we are an inconvenience to the school system—as if we are not students like all the others, who come here to get an education with hopes of attending college, or developing the necessary skills to carry out a dignified career,” said Velasquez.

During Monday’s meeting the Board of Education addressed the issues and concerns that MCPS has in dealing with a large number of unaccompanied minors enrolling in the school system.

Through Jan. 31, MCPS has enrolled 998 students from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and more than 3,000 international students from 155 countries during the 2014-2015 school year, according to Chris Richardson, Associate Superintendent, Special Education and Student Services. The Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras represent the countries of origin for approximately 33 percent of all international students enrolled, and the majority of the unaccompanied minors entering MCPS this school year.