April 7, 2017
In its inaugural year, the IPS Newcomer Program has already grown
beyond all initial expectations.
Created as a bridge for students who have been in the
country for less than a year, with little to no English skills, the program shares
space inside of IPS Innovation Network school Enlace Academy — on the city’s westside.
Students spend one year at Newcomer before moving on to traditional schools
within the IPS district.
When the program opened in fall 2016, administrators
expected 60-80 potential students to enroll, but by late August it was clear
that they had underestimated the demand the program would bring.
Amanda Clayton, Newcomer program coordinator, credits the
growth in part to immigrant communities spreading the word that, “there is a
school that was built just for them.”
Since its launch, new students continue to enroll almost
daily, and the program has more than doubled to 22 staff members and more than 200
students. Despite this sharp increase, there are no plans to put a cap on the
“IPS, the Board and Dr. Ferebee are definitely committed to and support this
program fully,” said Clayton. “One of the things that is really important to
them, and to us, is that we didn’t want to turn anyone away who was qualified
for the program.”
To be eligible, students must be enrolled in a Grades 7-9
and have been in the United States for less than a year. “If they come with a transcript
from a native country, and they haven’t had what we offer here, they can come,”
The goal of the program is to provide students who are new to
the country an opportunity to learn the language and culture, while
simultaneously learning content. Like other Choice programs, students who are
new to the U.S. are not required to attend Newcomer. Many also enroll in
traditional IPS schools, which offer English as a Second Language (ESL)
services. Newcomer, however, is a different option for those who prefer to be
in an educational program that focuses solely on ESL students.
In addition to mastering the English language and American
culture, Newcomer students also participate in traditional lessons including math,
art, physical education, literature and American history. All subjects are
taught in English for true language immersion.
There are currently 14 individual languages spoken by Newcomer
students, so teachers and staff (who speak at least one foreign language and
some who speak six) create innovative ways to accommodate for language gaps.
This innovation was evident during a recent ninth-grade math class, where wads
of paper soared through the air and landed — at least some of them — into
baskets across the room. Students laughed and spoke in multiple languages as
they launched the paper, while others recorded data. “We’re learning
percentages!” said the teacher.
Beyond adjusting for linguistic challenges, the Newcomer
program is also generating additional ways to connect with students. Art representing
different cultures from all over the world decorate the school. It’s a small
but meaningful way of encouraging students to feel comfortable in their
environment. There are even multiple signs that uncompromisingly state, “You
are welcome here.”
Throughout the year, the staff has also refined the
enrollment process to make it more streamlined for potential students. And
schedules have changed multiple times, due to the influx of students, to adjust
for the addition of new teachers, which helps to ensure that class sizes remain
as small as possible.
While a lot of change has occurred during the program’s
first year, by all accounts, Clayton said the scholars have adapted exceedingly
well to the adjustments. “These students are used to change,” she said.
For some, that change is more apparent than in others.
According to Clayton, this is the first time that some
students have attended school. Because of gangs and the threat of violence in
some of their native countries, an organized education was never a true option
for them. Other students are refugees or unaccompanied minors, who have migrated
into the country on their own. The year that scholars spend in the Newcomer
program allows them to navigate their new world in a controlled environment,
before entering the traditional IPS system with their peers.
Emanuel S., a seventh-grader, has been enrolled at Newcomer
since its opening. Originally from Mexico, Emanuel has quickly picked up the language
and culture. He alternates between English and Spanish when speaking about his
education in America.
He first attended Theodore Potter School 74, but “When the
teacher spoke to me, I understood nothing.” Being at Newcomer has made him feel
much more at home in the U.S. “Triste porque no quisiera cambiar de escuela,” said
Clayton smiled, quickly offering a translation: “He said
that he’s sad because he doesn’t want to change schools.”