Things That Matter

This Pop-Up School For Migrant Kids Along The Border Went Virtual Thanks To Covid-19 But It’s Thriving More Than Ever

The people traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to reach the U.S.-Mexico border aren’t living in some ‘migrant vaccuum’ where nothing else matters. They still have lives to live and experiences to have and, particularly for the young ones, an education to continue.

That was the thinking behind one sidewalk school that popped up in one of the many migrant camps along the U.S.-Mexico border. It was becoming filled with children from across Latin America who were forced to wait out their asylum process from within the border camps, thanks to Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. But their need for an education didn’t just go away.

One woman – with no formal teacher training – decided to help and launched what was called a ‘sidewalk school’ for kids in the camp. But it’s been incredible successful and has blossomed into an online academy for kids throughout the border region.

Despite Covid-19, this pop-up school for migrant kids along the border is thriving.

Just as the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted schools around the world, it’s also having an impact on a pop-up sidewalk school for asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The school, which launched to help fill the educational needs of a growing group of kids stuck at the border, had to go to virtual learning because of the pandemic. But instead of seeing that as a challenge, the school instead has blossomed.

What started out with one teacher at one camp on a sidewalk, how now blossomed by hiring 20 teachers – all asylum seekers themselves – to give classes via Zoom to children across the border region.

To be able to switch to distance learning, the teachers and students were outfitted with more than 200 Amazon tablets by The Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers. The organization was founded by Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, who lives across the border in Brownsville, Texas, and has been crossing to help the asylum seekers by providing them food and books.

It started in just one migrant camp with one teacher but it’s blossomed ever since.

A program like the sidewalk school was severely needed as hundreds and thousands of kids starting being forced to wait at the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s well-known that the border region is one of the most dangerous and violent parts of Mexico and that only underscores the need for quality activities.

Many point out that parents aren’t sending their kids to Mexican schools because they’re afraid to be apart from them. Crime is common here, and kidnappings have been reported. Other parents say registering for school in Mexico is difficult. But program leaders want the kids to be able to continue their education, and they say that many of the asylum-seekers have skill sets they can put to use at the school.

Parents are grateful, too, with one woman telling NPR that she knows “her children will be safe at the sidewalk school, and it gives her time to meet with an immigration lawyer. Volunteer attorneys have been coming over on the weekends to give free legal advice. The asylum-seekers could wait for months to be able to make their asylum case in the U.S.”

Teachers try to give the students some sense of normalcy amid the often dire circumstances at the border.

Credit: John Moore / Getty Images

Many students start their day with an arts and crafts class. Kids are asked to draw on paper plates then outline them with flue and drop glitter. Then they get to hang their creations from trees.

One impromptu teacher, who told NPR he preferred to remain anonymous, said that he wants the kids to “see other people appreciate the artwork they did and let them know how important they are, too, even to people, like, just walking past and driving by. It’s beautiful work.

The classes have offered children not only the chance to catch up on studies that were interrupted when their families fled violence in their homelands, but also a distraction from the long days of boredom.

Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is what is fueling the need for programs like these.

Credit: JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images

It’s the Trump policy of ‘Remain in Mexico’ that has forced programs like these to exist in the first place. The program forces asylum seekers to wait south of the border as their immigration cases proceed through the U.S. court system.

It leaves thousands of families living in tents or at Mexican shelters. Previously, asylum seekers were allowed to remain in the United States with relatives or other sponsors while their cases proceeded.

Many have spent more than a year with their lives in limbo, and the wait has only grown longer with the Trump administration suspending immigration court hearings for asylum-seekers during the pandemic.

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