Latino Voices

At Albany Park Elementary School, Community Rallies Behind Migrant Students and Their Families

At Albany Park Elementary School, Community Rallies Behind Migrant Students and Their Families

It has been a challenging journey for thousands of migrant children arriving in Chicago.

An Albany Park elementary school has become a haven for hundreds of migrant students; staff and alumni are coming together to support the new arrivals.

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“We’re trying to put ourselves in the place of these families,” Haugan Elementary School principal Heather Yutzy said. “If we were in this situation, what would we need for our kids?” 

Haugan Elementary has opened its doors to more than 300 migrant students since they began arriving in Chicago last year.

“We prepared differently for this school year,” Yutzy said, “so we doubled our bilingual program, added more staff, and we received about another 150 new children this year.”

Kimberly Solorzano’s son Nick is one of them.

“This has been a big blessing because the staff was so welcoming,” Solorzano said in Spanish, “and I felt like, God, there’s something beautiful in this country.”

Solorzano said after her family’s long treacherous journey from Venezuela, the school has felt like a second home.

“In our country, we don’t have that option to receive items for school,” Solorzano said. “We have received many things here, and we’re grateful.”

Coordinating a school with 1,000 students can get challenging. Yutzy said her staff has stepped up to help navigate the change.

“We’ve ended up being a point of first contact more than we expected,” Yutzy said. “So we ended up being the first place people come for warm clothing, blankets and connections for medicine.”

The principal called for donations, also expressing the need for families to access a laundry unit.

“It felt prohibited in an old building to figure out how to get the plumbing, the electrical, and the donation of the washer and dryer,” Yutzy said.

That’s when Haugan alumni took action.

“My sister and I jumped on it and starting planning to make this washer and dryer happen,” Haugan graduate Laarni Livings said.

Livings mobilized her cousins, who once attended the school.

“There’s 19 of us that went to this school, first cousins,” Livings said. “I think we all started here, probably in 1980.”

The cousins raised the money to purchase the machines.

“Our cousin is actually an installer for Abt,” Livings said. “He is the one who installed the washer and dryer and came here.” 

Yutzy said the donation is already making a difference.

“We’ve had a few families who needed to do laundry because of their housing situation,” Yutzy said. “We’ve also had kids that might bring their laundry in their backpack.”

Now Solorzano is one of the many parents who will have access to doing laundry for free. It’s one less thing to worry about as her family adjusts. 

“Right now,” Solorzano said in Spanish, “I’m focusing on getting my work permit to be able to find a more stable place and be able to provide more for my son.”

One of Livings’ cousins has also committed to providing laundry supplies for the school.

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