At a School of Immigrants, Challenges Reach Far Beyond the Classroom
Sometimes during assemblies at Public School 160, in South Brooklyn, the principal, Margaret Russo, will ask, “Who was born in another country?” Many hands will go up.
在南布鲁克林的第160公立学校(Public School 160)，校长玛格丽特·鲁索(Margaret Russo)有时会在大会上问，“有谁是在另一个国家出生的？”很多人会举手。
Then Ms. Russo will ask, “Who has parents who were born in another country?”
At that, she says, “the whole assembly’s hands go up, including the teachers.”
“Because that’s the story of this country,” she continued.
Ms. Russo raises her hand as well. With white-blond hair and pale blue eyes, she was born in Brooklyn, the ninth of 11 children of Irish immigrants. Her twin was No. 10.
This is a school of immigrants, in a city of immigrants, in a country of immigrants.
P.S. 160, the William T. Sampson school, sits in a zone that includes Sunset Park, and has about 1,400 students spread between two adjoining buildings. About 80 percent of the children are still learning English or just recently mastered it. They came from Mexico, Poland, Russia and Pakistan, but a vast majority are from China: 83 percent of the students speak a Chinese dialect at home. A third of all students in the school — including almost the entire kindergarten — came to this country just this year.
第160公立学校，即威廉·T·萨姆森学校(William T. Sampson)，坐落于一个包括了日落公园(Sunset Park)的区域内，约1400名学生分布在相连的两栋楼里就读。80%左右的学生正在学习英语，或者直到最近才掌握了这门语言。其中一部分来自墨西哥、波兰、俄罗斯和巴基斯坦，但绝大多数人来自中国：其中有83%在家说中国方言。该校所有学生当中有三分之一——包括几乎整个幼儿园——是在今年来到这个国家的。
Since the election of Donald J. Trump as president, anxiety has rippled through the school’s community, where some of the parents are undocumented; Mr. Trump has pledged to deport people like them.
自从唐纳德·J·特朗普(Donald J. Trump)当选总统以来，这所学校所属的社区人心惶惶。有些学生的父母是非法移民，而特朗普已经作出承诺，要驱逐他们这样的人。
Among school staff members, Ms. Russo said, there is a mix of political allegiances, and so the aftermath of the election has been a delicate dance, one that requires one-on-one conversations rather than a schoolwide address.
“I am totally Switzerland,” she said. “I don’t think it’s my place” to insert a political opinion, she continued. “It’s just going to divide people.”
So despite those fears, and the battle over what Mr. Trump’s election could mean for New Yorkers and for immigrants across the country, life at the school marched on last week.
In the auditorium, 250 fourth graders shouted out the Pledge of Allegiance, their small hands covering their hearts. The stage in front of them, still decorated for Veterans Day, was draped in red, white and blue.
Children scurried through the hallways in uniforms — a white or blue shirt, navy pants or a skirt — wearing name tags with their full name and class neatly printed in pen. Many staff members wear name tags, too, because Ms. Russo feels it is important that people call each other by their names — and 1,400 names are a lot to remember.
But Mary Chu, the school’s parent coordinator, seems to know them all. She spends her days darting in and out of a windowless office just off the main lobby, sometimes with a phone on each ear, holding one conversation in English and another in Mandarin. She also speaks Cantonese and a little Toisanese. She said her Fujianese needs work.
As with many schools in New York City, an overwhelming majority of the students at P.S. 160 are poor; the entire school qualifies for free lunch. So the administration tries to pile on cultural activities, like violin lessons or dance classes, that students would otherwise miss.
Other challenges are more singular: Each year, hundreds of students enroll who not only are new to the school and the country, but also are unfamiliar with their parents.
Ms. Chu said that most of their students who were born to recent Chinese immigrants were sent back to China as babies, spending a few years living with family so their parents could work. While their children are gone, the parents, many of whom were in debt from their journey to the United States, work grueling hours, often traveling around the country from one job to the next.
When the children are old enough to start school, their parents bring them back.
“It’s not uncommon for our population here,” said Patrick So, the school’s social worker. He said that he asked a mother at the school recently, “In six years, how many times did you see your kids?”
“She said, ‘Maybe a few months,’” Dr. So said.
The school offers workshops in subjects like music and art, so parents can spend time with their children and bond without being distracted by work or things that might be going on at home. Dr. So also hosts workshops for parents on how to discipline children, how to talk to them.
“This is a risk-free place, and they can spend time here together,” Ms. Russo said. “They don’t know each other, and we want to foster that relationship.”
Wenming Chen, a president of the parents’ association at P.S. 160, said that when her son was less than a year old, she and her husband sent him to China to live with her in-laws. She worked in Ohio; Michigan; Richmond, Va.; and Chicago before settling in New York City, as she chipped away at her debt from her trip to America.
When her son returned from China, Ms. Chen said, he was “not O.K.” He had been exposed to dangerous levels of lead while in China, she said, and he still struggles with learning disabilities as a result.
“The first time I saw him, there was nothing in his eyes,” Ms. Chen said. She and her husband also have a daughter, who is now in prekindergarten nearby. After the experience with her son, she refused to send her daughter to China.
Ms. Russo and her staff try hard to build bridges to the families. In August, Ms. Russo, Ms. Chu and several other teachers and administrators took a trip to China, organized by Ms. Chu, hoping to gain a better understanding of their school’s community. Students and their parents seemed to find it validating, Ms. Russo said, that school staff members took time to learn about their country and their culture. It also gave those who went on the trip more perspective on the experience of their charges.
“You don’t speak the language, and you have to rely on people and you have to figure things out,” said Debra Fox, a fifth-grade teacher. “You realize how difficult it must be. I always knew that, we always knew, but to experience it for yourself. To go into a store and just kind of smile.”
“It makes you realize,” she added, “how hard these little guys have it.”