Forced to adjust: Kansas City students start new life in America

Both Vanessa Nunez and Brian Martinez are students at Alta Vista High School in Kansas City.

KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- From the partial government shutdown to the topic of the migrant caravan coming in from Central America, the conversation of migrants coming into the U.S. has no end in sight.

Both Vanessa Nunez and Brian Martinez are students at Alta Vista High School in Kansas City.

Martinez, who is a sophomore, said he came to the United States from Cuba due to economical problems he and his family faced. He now is a student at Elise Keller’s classroom who has had many students like Martinez.

“I know that kids need to know that they can feel safe here, mostly because I feel like the transition can be difficult,” Keller said.

Keller shared she has seen the difficult transition firsthand.

“The honeymoon season is like three months,” said Keller. “The kids think that the Unites States is a great place for the first three months that they are here and then when those three months end, you see a lot more anger and a lot more frustration.”

She said not only do the kids have to adapt to the culture and language but to the academics as well.

And it all starts with the class courses. Students first start off in classes where they focus on learning the language and seeing where they fit academically.

Then, the following year focuses on specific materials and how they can get to pass standardized exams.

"First, of all the kids will have English classes with me, the first year is basic English. the second year is a transition," said Keller. "So I start taking things that are from other classes whether its history or science,"

In some cases, some students have to start as a freshman when they’re already 18 years old.

In the states of Missouri and Kansas, kids are allowed to stay until they’re 21, which in some cases is the opportunity for an education.

KCTV5 also took a closer look at the U.S. Department of Education's numbers.

For public education, we broke down by numbers of migrant students in Missouri and Kansas.

Kansas has higher numbers, especially in the kindergarten through third grades and the middle school years compared to Missouri.

And for students the same age as Martinez and Nunez, you see the numbers are also much higher in Kansas.

“There is a lot of pressure on teachers to perform well, a lot of pressure on the school to perform well,” said Keller. “To meet certain percentages on standardized testing and whatever their charter has decided or else they shut down.”

This can be even more difficult when students wake up to intense and even hateful headlines.

“When Trump was elected president. Yeah people were really really scared. Really, really scared,” said Keller.

"It impacts me when I see those who want to come over and can’t,” Martinez said in Spanish.

For Nunez, who was born in the U.S. but raised in Mexico, she said agrees that it’s hard to watch.

“It really throws me off,” Nunez said in Spanish. “I hope that everything will be fine and that nothing bad happens.”

For Keller, she said she is also in the position in telling kids what their rights are.

“Some people are saying oh you’re exposing them to more adult things but the reality is some of these kids have to know,” Keller said.

But the hardships haven’t held back students at the Guadalupe Center.

A wall of graduates covers one of the hallways at Vista High School which gives those students hope, like Martinez who plans to graduate in 2021 and go to school to become a veterinarian.

"Fight for your future no matter how hard it is,” Martinez said. “You have to fight to move forward.”

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