Helping Immigrant Students Catch Up, Fast — It Takes A Whole School : NPR

US example of how schools facilitate the integration process:

For many immigrant students, the trauma of crossing the border follows them into the classroom — affecting their performance and ability to learn. And that’s where Michelle’s school comes in.

At Langley Park, in Prince George’s County, Md., 87 percent of students are Spanish-speaking. Out of 176 students, 24 countries are represented and 15 languages are spoken at home, not including English.

The school started last fall. So far, the school sits in temporary buildings, but the kids don’t mind it too much — unless it’s raining.
Her school is part of a larger network across the country called Internationals Network For Public Schools. It serves English language learners, or ELLs, and recent immigrants.

For students like Michelle, the problem is two-fold: Not only are they dealing with trauma, but they also belong to one of the most marginalized student populations.

According to a recent Stanford study, the achievement gap between ELL-Hispanic and white students is the largest in the context of race and ethnicity. And, the average high school graduation rate of ELLs is 19 percentage points lower than the national rate, 63 percent compared to 82.

In 1985, the network opened its first school to address that long-standing disparity. Since then, it has grown to 27 schools in seven states, including Washington, D.C.

And, it seems to be working. Last year, ELLs who attended the network’s high schools in New York City graduated at a rate 16 percentage points higher than ELL students in the city’s public schools, the nation’s largest school district.

As for Langley Park, it hasn’t had a graduating class, yet — it opened last fall — but results so far look promising. In the first class of students, 98 percent showed improvement in their English language skills.

Two talented young artists — Stefany Novoa (left), 16, and Frishta Wassl, 14 — work on self-portraits in Christine Wilkin’s art class.

LA Johnson/NPR

How does the network do it when so many other schools struggle to educate ELLs? It seems to boil down to three simple things:

Every teacher is a language teacher. Tammy Tatro, who teaches technology, says implementing English-language instruction into her class curriculum is “really hard.” But she does it by repeating herself and using visual aids to get concepts across to students.

Second, one of the network’s vital principles is collaboration. That’s why the classes are a mix of students with varying English language skills.

“They all want to lift each other up,” Tatro says. “When one fails, especially if they’re working on a team project, then they all kind of fail. So, they have to help each other.”

A third key principle, Principal Carlos Beato says: the school’s partnerships.

Christine Gilliard, a phys ed teacher, used to teach at a large high school where she had “a two-story gym and two storage closets.” Now she teaches out of a trailer-sized temporary building. “We may not have the best of everything, but we have each other,” she says.

LA Johnson/NPR

CASA de Maryland, a Latino advocacy organization, is one of Langley Park’s partners. The organization offers legal advice for students and their families. Students can also take a social justice class from CASA to learn about advocacy and their rights, depending on their immigration status.

Partnerships like this are crucial, given the extra challenges many of these students face — homelessness, separation from their parents and, of course, the language barrier. Without tending to all of their social and emotional needs, Beato explains, “we wouldn’t be getting any of the academics done.”

Most of the network’s schools employ a full-time social worker. At Langley Park, that’s Lesly Lemus. Her job is to support students any way she can as they cope with life outside school, whether it’s connecting them to community resources or just listening.

Source: Helping Immigrant Students Catch Up, Fast — It Takes A Whole School : NPR Ed : NPR

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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