Luisa Mandiangu,13, standing, an eighth grader at Memorial Middle School in South Portland who came to Maine from Angola, assists classmate Pedro Sebastiao 13, who also came from Angola, with an assignment during “target time” an intervention program where students work to catch up to grade level on a number of subjects. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

SOUTH PORTLAND — With more asylum seekers coming to Maine and being housed in South Portland hotels, the schools have been getting ready for more English language learners and welcome the new students with excitement. 

“We are working very hard to support the new students,” said South Portland Superintendent Tim Matheney. “We hired five additional English learner teacher since June and were looking for volunteers to support classrooms where we have significant numbers of English learners.” 

South Portland schools, from the elementary to the high school, have rearranged the schedule of the English language teachers and have added an additional part-time English language teacher to help accommodate the influx of non-English speaking children. 

Portland schools enroll 450 to 500 multilingual students per school year. South Portland High School enrollment has bumped up this year from 950 students to 970 students. During the beginning of the school year, South Portland High School has served 305 homeless students, an increase from last year. 

Matheney discussed how the school system has 522 English language learner students, compared to the 328 last year. Most asylum seekers have been living in emergency shelters in local hotels around South Portland, Portland, Old Orchard Beach and Brunswick. 

“We have had a very significant increase in the number of newcomers to our country and to Maine in the past year and the past school year,” Matheney said. 


Most children have come from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many of them have spent several months or years of traveling with their families to get to the Unites States and to escape the instability or violence in their countries. 

“We have about 10 times more students who qualify for support under the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act,” Matheney said. “Some of them are asylum seeking families and some of them are not. Many of them however are new to the country and those students do not speak a lot of English.”

Due to the travel, most children have been out of school for long periods of time. Some students have not been in school for almost five years or longer. The large gaps in their schooling have left educators with the job of helping them catch up to their proper grade level. 

The schools have been teaching the children English, enrolling them in proper courses as well as making sure they have the basic needs such as housing, food and warm clothes. The schools plan to hire more English language teachers and social workers. 

District staff reach out to families to get to know them and when they will be arriving. The enrollment process for new students includes having staff meet the families, provide community resources and describe the American school experience. The staff assesses the new students English speaking, listening, and reading skills and discuss their previous education. Each student gets a backpack filled with school supplies that is provided by the nonprofit Maine Needs. 

Comments are not available on this story.