Welcoming migrant students is more than a generational challenge. It’s a moral obligation.

As Denver Public Schools enrolls thousands of newcomer students, its superintendent vows to meet the moment.

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others thinking and writing about public education.

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There’s no denying the challenges that the influx of newcomer students presents. There are testing requirements, transportation needs, and requisite Spanish-language academic and mental health supports, to name a few. As a child of immigrant parents and the leader of Colorado’s largest school district, I am confident that Denver Public Schools is meeting the moment.

Denver has the highest intake of new-to-country students per capita among all large U.S. cities not situated along the southern border. Since July 2023, Denver Public Schools has welcomed more than 3,500 migrant students.

Headshot of a man, wearing a gray suit, a multicolored tie, and glasses.
Dr. Alex Marrero (Courtesy of Denver Public Schools)

In the past few months, I’ve walked the halls of more than 100 Denver schools and met with many of our new-to-country students, their families, and the educators dedicated to serving them. I’ve seen fear and sadness in these students’ eyes transform into sparkle and joy. I’ve watched thousands of teachers and school employees level up supports and services — hosting winter clothing drives and information sessions about the American school system. In the process, our leaders have grown, and our district has been enriched.

My own upbringing, as the child of a Cuban refugee and a Dominican immigrant, offered profound lessons in how public schools can help newcomer families thrive. Decades on, I’m proud to lead Denver Public Schools’ work to support our new-to-country scholars.

Amid teacher shortages in the area, Denver Public Schools created an International Educator Institute to recruit highly qualified international candidates who can fill critical vacancies, including for multilingual educators. To date, we’ve successfully hired 98% of budgeted teaching positions, with a focus on diverse candidates to meet our students’ varied needs.

The district’s six community hubs have been key to supporting the newcomer families as they build their lives in Denver. Launched in 2022, these hubs offer help with everything from food assistance to medical services to workforce training. While they are costly to maintain, they help ensure our students have what they need to thrive. The district is also committed to providing reliable transportation, nutritious meals, mental health support, and access to technology.

The district’s six community hubs have been key to supporting the newcomer families as they build their lives in Denver.

Recognizing this as a statewide and nationwide challenge, we are grateful for all of the school districts and leaders advocating for state and federal funding support. These efforts underscore the importance of unity and shared responsibility in addressing the educational needs of our newest community members. It is more than a responsibility; it is our moral obligation as educators.

I want to assure Denver’s new-to-country families that despite the circumstances that brought them here, every child who walks through our doors will have access to the highest-quality education. While accommodating an influx of newcomer students has presented challenges in staffing, services, and a budget impact that now totals in the tens of millions of dollars, it has also proved our resolve to uphold our mission of educational equity and inclusivity for all learners.

As long as I am Superintendent, Denver Public Schools will continue to champion this cause and uplift every child. We are committed to honoring the legacy of those who have paved the way for equity and justice, positioning our schools as drivers of opportunity and advancement for all.

Dr. Alex Marrero is the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools.