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Dallas Schools Reopen Intake Center For State's Largest Foreign Language Population

Dallas claims more English language learners than any school district in Texas. Despite that, state funding cuts forced the district to close its "intake center" for immigrant families two years ago. But just in time for the new school year, which starts Monday, the center has reopened.

It’s a busy afternoon in the Herrera Intake Center, an air- conditioned, portable building behind the old brick Bonham Elementary School.  Supervisor Amanda Clymer says 20 students with their families are expected in today, 30 tomorrow, from Bhutan, Thailand, and Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar).

“This is for new-to-the-country immigrants," she says. "First we welcome them to DISD. We do registration of the students. We also do language-proficiency testing,”

Clymer says kids also leave with free school supplies, while parents gather literacy,  health and vaccine information, school lunch applications and more, from the center  a couple miles northeast of downtown Dallas.  

“We expect to intake between 1,500 and 1,800 new immigrants into DISD," she says. "About 80 languages are spoken in the district, and we serve students from over 100 different countries.”

Interpreters are available, and most immigrants come from Mexico. But not Saroz Kafley and his 9-year-old son, Ayush.

“We are from Bhutan, and we stayed for 20 years to Nepal, and from Nepal here, here at the U.S.,” Saroz says. His son chimes in: “My favorite  subject is math. I want to be a scientist.”

The Kafleys are refugees being helped by the International Rescue Committee. Senior caseworker Daley Ryan says his organization has helped many citizens originally from Bhutan, but with ethnic Nepalese origins. For that reason, Bhutan kicked them out years ago.

“And most of them went to Nepal, and Nepal opened up camps," Ryan says. "And these people have been living there. They’re without documentation, they’re without citizenship, they’re just living in the camps, some their whole lives. The child you talked to was born in a camp.”

That child, Ayush, is now getting ready for 4th grade. DISD intake specialist April May brings out a gift for the budding scientist, who also likes guitar. It’s a backpack stocked with supplies that the center hands out to its students.

SarozKafley came to Dallas because his brother was already here, living in a growing Bhutanese community. He works for Grapevine-based GameStop, and is happy to live life outside of a refugee camp. Today’s intake center visit was a top priority because of Kafley’s emphasis on education.

“It is very important," he says. "It makes the future.”

DISD will keep the Intake Center open throughout the year to help parents navigate their way around the district and counsel them on other needs that inevitably arise for new students and new immigrants.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.