813 0 0 1 . 696 0 ideal student essay in english 100 words 0 1. 415 0 0 0 1. 748 0 0 0 2.
624 0 0 0 1. 47 0 0 0 13 6. 5 0 1 0 6. Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise.
My mother immigrated to the United States when she was 16, in May of 1943. I am sure that this is not true, but she graduated and went on to get a doctorate in psychology. I have spent the past 20 years teaching immigrant high schoolers, many of those years in California, where 23 percent of K-12 students are English learners. When we talk about educating immigrant students, we focus almost entirely on teaching them English, but for many students the needs run deeper. In 2012, I taught at the Fremont High School Newcomers Program in the Fruitvale neighborhood of East Oakland. My students there were Mayans from Guatemala, who had had so little formal schooling we needed to teach some of them the alphabet. But they were not empty-handed.
They also brought with them hope, resilience, and an ability to rely on their community that was rare in their adopted neighborhoods. The idea for newcomer high schools and programs within regular high schools took off in the 1970s because this focused instruction proved so effective at helping students integrate linguistically and culturally. No Child Left Behind Act. Fremont High School had a 15-foot-high, barbed-wire fence, a security guard, and seven full-time security officers patrolling the grounds.
The fence and guards were not there to keep people out, but rather to keep the students in. The buildings were dilapidated and covered with graffiti. The windows were barred, as were the doors, the lockers banged up and dented. There was rarely toilet paper in the bathrooms, and if there was, it was strewn all over the floor. When it was windy, napkins flew about, keeping low like the ghosts of birds who had died a violent death. The Newcomers Program, in contrast, is a sheltered environment, where immigrant teens study the basic subjects in English and take intensive English classes. Here students form a community, sharing curse words and traditional dances, as well as their problems.
When one student was beaten so badly that he was hospitalized just a few weeks after he arrived in Oakland, the students supported him. My students had strong emotional survival skills, but they didn’t know that there were planets or that the Earth revolved around the sun. They did not know that the world was divided into continents or that it was round. They did not think it was flat, either. They had simply never thought about what the Earth was beyond where they were from. They did not know the difference between a city and a state and a country. They knew they were in California, but they didn’t quite understand the difference between California and Oakland and the United States.
So in the Newcomers Program, we all started from the beginning. I began my class with the Big Bang and continued on to the creation of the solar system and Earth, to Pangaea and tectonic plates and the seven continents and dinosaurs and the evolution of Homo sapiens. There were so many gaps in their knowledge that I kept finding I had to go back farther. What do trees have to do with paper? So I went all the way back to the beginning to show them how paper was made and to teach them about deforestation in the Amazon. They had never heard of the Amazon, so I had to backtrack again.
I felt as though I was always backtracking, though I understood that what we were really doing was moving slowly forward, building not only on what I taught them but also on the strength of what they had brought with them. Like my mother, they had survived violence and carried unique advantages. My students made tremendous progress, but this progress looked like failure on the standardized tests: Their academic abilities were still far below grade-level and all tests are in English, which they have not yet mastered. 11th grade, and is taking Algebra II in a regular high school class. The young man who was beaten up in his early days in Oakland is also on track to graduate, but many students have dropped out to have babies and work.
Yet, this is not necessarily a failure. They have learned to speak English and how to read and write. They know that the universe began with a Big Bang and that paper comes from trees. Recently there has been an emphasis on cultural awareness and how to integrate this into the curriculum. All of these things are certainly part of the equation, but I have learned that there is no algorithm, no one ideal way to address all the needs of all English learners. Because newcomers bring with them a great variety of skills and come from such diverse academic and cultural backgrounds, programs must be flexible.