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The drug violence in Mexico has forced thousands of families to seek refuge in the United States. As a result, some Mexican students are heading into U.S. classrooms along the southwest border. They're showing up with trauma that school officials have never seen before.
From the public media collaboration Fronteras, KJZZ's Monica Ortiz Uribe reports. A note, this story contains a graphic description of violence.
(Soundbite of people talking) (Foreign language spoken)
MONICA ORTIZ URIBE: You'd think you'd accidentally crossed the border standing in the main foyer of Burgess High School in El Paso, Texas. Left and right students are greeting each other in Spanish and kissing each others cheeks as they would in Mexico. So like any curious reporter, I had to ask, what's with all the Spanish?
(Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Girl: (Foreign language spoken)
URIBE: We're from Juarez, one girl says. Really, this is no secret. In border cities it's common for students from Mexico to come to school in the states. Some were born here, but raised in Mexico. Their families feel they'll have better opportunities if they go to an American school. But in recent years, the motivation to cross the border has changed. Horrific drug-related violence in Mexico is forcing some families to flee, often in a hurry.
Susan Crews is a lead counselor for the El Paso Independent School District.
Ms. SUSAN CREWS (Counselor, El Paso Independent School District): I have students whose mothers have been decapitated. I have a student in one of the middle schools, when he visited his family in Juarez, there were three heads on sticks along the path were he goes.
URIBE: Crews is a grandmotherly figure who wears her ashen hair in a bow-shaped bun atop her head. Never in her 43 years as a counselor has she encountered such hellish stories.
Ms. CREWS: The counselor had contacted me because this 8th grader was having trauma reaction. He was not able to control his bladder, he was not sleeping at night.
URIBE: Crews is the woman the district sends when there's a major trauma at a school. In the last two years she's responded to the deaths of four students. All were killed in Mexico.
Ms. CREWS: My experience has been atrocious. I mean it's just been overwhelming, in my opinion.
URIBE: Most school counselors are not trained to handle the psychological needs of these new students. And many students are fearful about sharing their stories and don't ask for help. So they suffer in silence.
Mr. JORGE ESQUIVEL: I'm Jorge Esquivel. I'm a student here at Burgess High School.
URIBE: Jorge is from Ciudad Juarez. His uncle was murdered there because he refused to pay criminals an extortion fee to keep his business open. Jorge's uncle was like a father to him. The loss cut deep.
Mr. ESQUIVEL: (Foreign language spoken)
URIBE: I couldn't concentrate at school, he says. It's something I couldn't control. I can't just say, I'm not going to think about it anymore. You just feel so bad.
Mr. ESQUIVEL: (Foreign language spoken)
URIBE: To make matters worse, when Jorge first enrolled here most of his credits didn't transfer. At 18 he had to enroll as a sophomore. This is happening a lot, says Burgess High School counselor Michelle Barron.
Ms. MICHELLE BARRON (Counselor, Burgess High School): That used to be a very rare occasion. If you had a student who was 17 years old and about to graduate high school in Mexico, usually they would keep them there. Now it doesn't seem to matter. It could be mid year it could be during their senior year. Families are bringing over their kids and saying, well, you know, whatever it is that they have to do, we're not going there.
URIBE: Because El Paso is home to the Army's Ft. Bliss, local school districts offer counselors training in post traumatic stress disorder for children of military families. Some school counselors are using that training and applying it to students from Mexico. But lead counselor Susan Crews thinks the district needs programs designed specifically for the survivors of Mexican violence.
Ms. CREWS: If you don't deal with trauma right away, it's going to come back. You're going to have more violence. You're going to have children repeating the violence that they've seen.
URIBE: As long as the violence in Mexico persists, Crews says, schools will continue to see students with related trauma. Ignoring the problem, she says, won't make it go away.
For NPR news, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe in El Paso.