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Migrant students continue to join classrooms at McMeen Elementary School

Migrant students continue to join classrooms at McMeen Elementary School
Migrant students continue to join classrooms at McMeen Elementary School 05:27

It is a long day at Denver's McMeen Elementary School where children are learning along with many new migrant children who have arrived at the dual language school since Denver's wave of migrants has impacted the city. 

The early childhood education through fifth grade school on South Holly Street near Cherry Creek Drive has been one of the most heavily impacted schools.

"It is but I don't know I guess I'm just handling it the best I can and try not to overstress myself on the things I can't control," said kindergarten teacher Lyly Zaragoza. Into her lap climbed 5-year-old, Fraimar, who tightened her arms around her teacher in a hug. 


"They're scared. Or don't know what's happening or confused. Like today she asked if she could come with me today," she said. 

"When they first come there's a lot of crying and not wanting to be away from their mom. Which makes sense if they spend all this time traveling together," said Zaragoza. "It makes me sad because they're little, they shouldn't see some of the things they've already experienced. And I feel in this country we're really lucky to not have experienced that." 

McMeen Elementary has absorbed about 140 students since the wave of migrant arrivals began. The pace of arrivals has remained fairly consistent since the start of the year. There are about 200-250 arriving per week. There are about 3,400 students new to the country in Denver Public Schools.

5-year-old Arianny, one of the new students in the class tells the story of her travel to the United States. They went through a very deep river and her dad carried her on his shoulders because it was really deep she says through an interpreter. 

The family including a grandmother and uncle came from Venezuela. The distance they traveled was greater than that from Miami to Denver. 6-year-old Matias says he fell along the way and hurt his hands and feet.


"No one wants to put their kids through that but it's like a last resort for many of them," says Zaragoza, talking about the trauma many of the children have experienced.

Few of the children speak any English and spend a good part of the day in English language immersion classes. 

"Sometimes they didn't have enough food. Sometimes they went without food for a couple of days. And then they kept walking," says second grade teacher Luis Figueroa. 

He came to the United States from Peru years ago and transferred to McMeen this year. 

"I always talk a little bit about my country and then I asked them to tell me about my country. And they say, 'oh I came from Venezuela, I came from Columbia.'" 


He arrived by plane, which seemed to confuse some of them. 

"They asked me, 'Mr. Figueroa, how did you get to the United States?' And I said by plane, they said, 'oh by plane, huh?'" he recalled.

Figueroa's classroom has reached the maximum capacity, 35 as the numbers have risen steadily. 

"At the beginning of the school year, I didn't have the support that I needed. Now, I'm getting support from the district," he said. 

He too sees the trauma. One girl started breaking pencils over and over. 

"Some of them have missed school for a year or maybe more," he said of the long journey. Now that they are in the United States there are new stresses. 


"Sometimes their parents work really hard and they see their parents only occasionally because they are working days and sometimes when the parents get home they are working, or they just been a couple of minutes and then they got to go to bed," he said. 

With 35 children in the class, some go to the hallway to seek quiet. 

"It's kind of hard for him to control all of the students and stuff. And it's a lot of work for him," said Gloria, one of the students in his class who had gone out to the hallway. 

Children are all learning what their new classmates have been through. 


"It was really hard for them to get here because they had to go across this big lake or something," said Ava.

There is educational value in being in a class with migrant children believes Figueroa. 

"They need to know what people go through in life because I don't want my kiddos to live in a bubble," he said. "They need to learn what children or people from other nations are like. They need to hear what their experiences are. Why they came to the United States." 

"They're learning from one another. There is a lot of empathy that's being shown. Patience, understanding," said Zaragoza.

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