Dozens of recently arrived migrants gathered in a function room at the Bedford Plaza Hotel on Tuesday evening for two hours of English lessons.
The weekly sessions are conducted by Carrie Powers, program administrator for English language learning in the Bedford schools, members of her staff and volunteers.
Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang told the School Committee that there was a “high demand” for the service with about 75 adults taking part. Powers, he said, “basically expanded her adult program to accommodate demand. She has recruited an additional set of staff and volunteers for support.”
Bedford Director of Health and Human Services Heidi Porter said on Wednesday the sessions began on Sept. 19. The program has been greatly improved after the implementation of child care. Language skills are a big step in “becoming part of the community,” Porter said.
Chuang said that as of Tuesday morning, there were 84 families in the emergency shelter, including 40 registered as students: 20 at Davis School, nine at Lane School, five at John Glenn Middle School, and six at Bedford High School. Additional students were expected to register during the day on Wednesday.
“Kids are acclimating,” he reported, and “teachers and staff are being very creative and thoughtful figuring out ways to meet those needs.”
He said that so far, the schools have added an elementary general education teacher and an elementary English language teacher. Expenses are reimbursed by the state quarterly, beginning next week, he said.
“Because the town has strong infrastructure, we were immediately able to spring into action,” Chuang said.
But one consistent area of need was helping migrants with their immigration court appointments. Now a specialist from a state agency is being assigned to help, he reported.
A state-administered children’s vaccination program is underway, said Chuang, in partnership with Bedford Pediatrics, which is providing physical examinations.
Porter pointed to successful efforts to bring migrants into the community. The schools are providing transportation so parents can attend back-to-school nights, she said, “And it was great to see families enjoying Bedford Day.”
Committee member Brad Morrison asked Chuang what is being done for the teachers.
“We have been very mindful of that,” Chuang said, noting that “nothing can eliminate the fact that it’s just harder work.” He said that in consultation with the teachers’ union, a pro rata system has been established for additional compensation.