Middle school presents intense challenges for teenagers, from hormones, crushes, and homework. Sophia Walder, a seventh-grader at Staten Island’s St. Joseph Hill Academy, used to be excited about returning to school.
A Different School Year Ahead
This school year is a bit more complicated than years past. A new migrant shelter has been set up across the street from Sophia’s school.
How to handle the growing number of migrants has been a hot-button issue in the United States for decades.
The country is split on what to do with these refugees and often talks in terms of economics and political interest. For Sophia, it is far more personal than that.
A Threat To Their Peaceful Neighborhood?
“I don’t want to be hanging out and dancing with my friends and feel unsafe,” Sophia told the New York Post.
Sophia always felt comfortable in her neighborhood. She and her friends would play in the streets late in the day without concern.
This new migrant shelter threatens to ruin that sense of peace. Men, women, and children will occupy the shelter, and it’s the first group specifically that has Sophia—and other classmates—stressed.
“My mom told me that the shelter is going to have outdoor showers. I don’t want to be playing with my friends outside, and there are grown men showering in trailers right there!”
They Worry About Their Safety
Sophia feared that many would misconstrue her concerns and make the issue political. She doesn’t think it’s a matter of politics at all.
As a teenage girl, she just wants to feel safe at school. “I know there are going to be haters and people with different opinions, but this is not about race.” She says that she is “just being realistic” and expressing her concerns.
“I have anxiety about everything!” Sophia confessed. “[My classmates and I] don’t need another thing to worry about.”
Extra Measures Are In Place
There are extra precautions in place to accommodate concerns around the new shelter.
Fences, security cameras, and additional security guards and police are all helping ensure the students’ safety.
It still seems unfair. “Last year, we didn’t have to worry about lockdowns or extra procedures.” For many students, it feels like their childhood freedom is being robbed.
Schools Should Be Safe Spaces For All Children
St. Joseph Hill Academy doesn’t just host preteens and teenagers either.
The private school is K-12, meaning there are kindergarteners—some as young as four and five years old—attending the school as well.
While these children may experience more parental supervision than their older classmates, it is still alarming to have a building full of unknown migrants next door.
The Internet Reacts
Those who heard Sophia’s story were outraged on the girl’s behalf.
“When I was 12 years old, about a thousand years ago, all I worried about was acne. I cannot begin to imagine what horrors today’s youngsters face,” one man wrote.
Why Place The Shelter Near The School?
Another felt the city had failed these students by opening the shelter so close to their school.
“As this child clearly states, she and her friends are truly afraid to go to school, [a place] which should actually provide them a safe haven to learn and socialize. It is appalling to know that children throughout the city will be returning to school under horrible and horrific conditions… My heart hurts for her.”
What About Us?
Sophia and other young people are being forced to cope with the shelter, as the city has no plans to shut it down.
She is sympathetic to the plight of these migrants but hates that the cost of protecting them is her own sense of safety.
“I know these people don’t have many liberties in their countries, and this is a better opportunity for them … but this here in Staten Island is not the right time and it is not the right place.”
This article was produced and syndicated by TPR Teaching.
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I'm an Irish tutor and founder of TPR Teaching. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK, Spain, and online.
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