Three Bedford Schools Welcome 17 Children from Sheltered Refugees

August 30, 2023

Seventeen children from the recently-arrived refugee families at the Bedford Plaza Hotel had registered for the new academic year in three local schools as of Tuesday night.

Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang told the School Committee at its regular meeting Tuesday that 11 of the children will attend Davis School. “The largest number is in kindergarten,” Chuang said, and “we had space.”

“Right now, we are fully prepared to integrate students,” Chuang said. Two of the new students will attend Lane School and four at Bedford High School. “We are on track for all students to start school on time.”

“There may be additional students. I feel confident we can navigate that,” Chuang told the committee. “The state is overwhelmed right now just trying to find housing for families, but we may be at maximum capacity.” As of Tuesday, there were 35 families whom the state had placed in the hotel as emergency shelter. 

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The influx means that in kindergarten “we are very close to class size guidelines,” Chuang acknowledged. Adding another section would not be “a trivial decision,” he said, since many children already know the identities of their teachers and classmates.

Chuang said he has been informed that there will be a state reimbursement of $18,000 per student, and “we are in the process of applying for a federal grant of $1,000 per student.” That can cover an additional English language teacher and additional staff, if needed. “That’s something that Principal (Beth) Benoit and others will talk about” at Davis, he said.

The superintendent said he first learned about the “new members of our community” early this month when he received a call from the hotel. He described the consolidated municipal and school response as “an all-hands-on-deck effort,” citing the Health Department’s role, including social workers and nurses from the Great Meadows collaborative of town health agencies.

The new families gathered at Davis School for an orientation and “culturally responsive meal” last week, Chuang reported, and they met kindergarten and English language teachers and a school nurse, plus a Spanish-speaking teaching assistant, and a volunteer interpreter from Haiti that the superintendent recruited through his church network.

“The kids were so happy to be in school on a playground,” Chuang told the committee. “We are prepared and excited to serve these families. I’m very proud of the team here.”

School Committee members praised the response. “You have been all over this from the beginning – thank you very much,” said Chair Dan Brosgol. “I think we are well prepared for the first day of school.” Added member Brad Morrison, “This is going to be a time that we can look back on with pride.”

Member Sheila Mehta-Green recognized the “great momentum as we go into the school year to make these families feel part of our community and support them the best we can.” She noted that “people are reaching out and asking, ‘How can I help?’” Mehta-Green added that all communication from the central office should be “very forthcoming.”

Kimberly Howell, the non-voting member who represents Hanscom Air Force Base families on the committee, stated, “I’m so proud to be part of such a welcoming community.”

Brosgol asked if any of the refugees came to Bedford from another Massachusetts school district. Chuang said he is not aware of any; “Most of them are recent arrivals in the country.” Several years ago, the state housed homeless families in the Bedford Plaza, and under state law the town was responsible for school transportation costs to home districts.

In answer to another question from Brosgol, the superintendent said he knows of no unaccompanied minors.

“This is not a Bedford unique issue,” Brosgol said of the refugee families. “This is happening in most towns around here.” 

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Rick Kenahan
September 4, 2023 9:44 am

Thank you very much to everyone involved in helping refugees assimilate into Bedford schools. I appreciate your efforts! All children deserve access to education so thank you for making that possible.

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