North Iowans are like most, concerned with immigration. Depending on the beliefs, immigrants are either wanted, accepted, or rejected in society. What many do not see is why they may be here. The stories behind the faces sometimes tell-all and those stories could be terrifying.
At the Belmond-Klemme Community Schools, many new students are arriving from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador. What many do not know is that violence there is high. For example, in Honduras the homicide rate is high. Nearly 103 per hundred thousand are murdered. Gang-related violence has soared causing many to flee for their lives. El Salvador became the world’s most violent country, not at war in 2015.
Belmond Klemme Community Schools Superintendent Dan Frazier wrote recently that, “Criminal gangs have managed to infiltrate the core of educational establishments, influencing the decisions of principals and teachers. Gang members routinely promote the sale of drugs to minors, extort teachers and students, and carry out recruitment, surveillance, and intelligence activities. Direct threats from criminal gangs have led to the closure of schools or the cancellation of classes. As a result of the violence, children must transfer schools or abandon their education altogether. In Honduras, during June and July 2018, three attacks on schools were reported.”
Some of these students have found their way to the area. They have begun to take classes at Belmond-Klemme Community Schools while their parents have found jobs in industry and business in the community or nearby. These students now face another daunting challenge, keeping up with the students their age. Connie Halpop and Claudia Guerrero are two teachers who specialize in helping these students. They see first hand the deficit in education between the United States and Latin America.
Guerrero explained what she sees when the students arrive.
So the task begins to try and get the students up to speed. In some cases, students are five grade levels behind their fellow same age students. Both Halpop and Guerrero use all resources at their disposal to begin the learning process for the new student.
As teachers and students work together intensively, they begin to see a change in comprehension, confidence, and motivation to keep going in a safe environment.
However, in some cases, these same elementary students who are excelling in their studies and growing in pride over the school they attend can be distracted by another element. Concern for their family members that they left behind in the violence-torn nations back home. They also struggle with another issue, acceptance by the people around them. Regardless, they take great pride in what they are accomplishing according to Connie Halfpop.