10 Possible Alternatives to “International Night”

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Today’s blog is written by Laura Gardner.  Laura has 16 years of experience working in public education, refugee resettlement, and social work.  While in public education, she worked as a district level manager for immigrant family and community engagement as well as a school social worker.  Learn more about Laura on our English Learner Portal website.

Many schools across the U.S. host international or multicultural nights each year.  At intnightthese events, students and/or their families typically set up tables to highlight their countries and cultures and the rest of the students and families walk from table to table sampling food and looking at artifacts and maps.  While organizers of these events have good intentions and aim to honor their students’ cultural backgrounds, sometimes these events can seem internationalnighttokenistic.  How can we build family comfort in schools throughout the school year?  With 79% of teachers in the U.S. being white* and 25% of students being children of immigrants, getting to know the cultural backgrounds of students requires a deeper dive.

intparadeThere are often two goals of international nights. The first is for students to learn more about other cultures and the second is for teachers to learn more about the backgrounds of their students and their families. With those goals in mind, what are 10 possible alternatives to international night?

  1. Invite immigrant parents or community members to speak in your class about their background and culture or a particular topic (i.e. a Vietnamese refugee could speak to students who are learning about the Vietnam war, etc.).
  2. Invite immigrant parents or community members to come to the classroom and share a story from their home country.
  3. Visit the main places your students and their families spend their time (places of worship, stores, community centers, neighborhoods, etc.).
  4. Travel as much as possible outside of the United States, particularly to the home countries of your students. Talk with students and their families about your experiences.
  5. Conduct an immigrant parent panel. For this professional learning opportunity, invite 3-6 immigrant parents to form a panel. Have one educator ask questions to each parent such as “Can you tell us about schools in your home country?” and so on. Be sure to provide teachers in the audience with an opportunity to ask their own questions.
  6. Invite immigrant parents to provide input on the rules and values that are practiced at school. Discuss any “cultural mismatches” between home and school.
  7. Take an interest in immigrant parents’ approach to raising their children. Ask questions about their family life.
  8. Ask immigrant parents or community members for information needed. Every time you seek background information on something from another country or culture, ask a parent from that culture (or student, if appropriate) to tell you what they know about that topic.  For example, if you have a lesson on Chinese New Year, find a Chinese parent in your school or community leader to talk to for more information and/or invite the person to speak directly with your students. Resist the urge to Google for lesson plans when you have direct sources of information nearby.
  9. Invite immigrant parents or community members to provide input on the curriculum.
  10. Help students make connections between what they’re studying and the immigrant communities in their own town.  For example, an IB (International Baccalaureate) class studying India could visit a local Indian organization rather than visiting the Indian embassy.
international

When you are ready to plan your schedule of parent/community events, please visit the English Learner Portal Resource Center for a free “Planning Checklist for ELL Family Nights”.  You will find this document in the Family Engagement folder.

*https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/highered/racial-diversity/state-racial-diversity-workforce.pdf

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Newcomer Programs and Puppies…

IMG_7275[1]So you are already wondering why newcomer programs and puppies would be in the same blog…Our family dog passed away recently and we were all pretty devastated.  After a week we did what everyone tells you NOT to do. We adopted a puppy.  I am so glad we did.  Little Ginny (pictured here) has brought new energy and a lot of smiles into our world. She runs through the yard as fast as possible, so excited to explore.  Think of that crazy puppy run, and that is how I felt this morning finally getting the opportunity to speak with Carol Salva in a voice chat!!  Carol and I have communicated via social media over the past few months, as she so graciously gave permission for us to use her book, Boosting Achievement, for one of our online book studies.  Carol invited me to be a guest on her Boosting Achievement pod cast this morning and I am still that puppy excited!  We had a IMG_6123great conversation about newcomer programs.  When Carol’s team finishes working their production magic and post the pod cast online, I will send you the link!

To go along with the pod cast, I wanted to share my experiences with planning and developing a newcomer center in our district. While I am no longer working in that office, I can share how it started.  In no way do I see this as the perfect plan.  What I hope, is that the big ideas are clear, and that the heart of what we were trying to accomplish comes through. Every district has different resources, guidelines, etc. that make each plan unique.

I’m sure many school systems experienced the same struggles we did a few years back when the number of incoming high school age English learners really took off.  As a young people from various refugee programs and immigrants from Central America, particularly unaccompanied youth, poured into our schools, we worried that we were unprepared to support these students both academically and emotionally.

In 2014, our school district assembled what we called a “Think Tank,” a group of people who came together voluntarily to discuss this particular student group and to brainstorm a solid plan for addressing their needs.  This group included members from the English Language Acquisition Office, teachers, school counselors, high school administrators, pupil personnel workers, career education, and alternative education workers. We looked at student data and used our combined expertise to come up with the most effective plan for both our school system and these students. I consider working with this group – student centered and creative -to be one of my most rewarding career experiences.  Never had I experienced this many people, from a number of schools and offices, coming together with such a level of collaboration to address a common concern and mission to support students.

The “Think Tank” met for 2 years, developing various proposals and presenting options20161208_145133 to the school district’s leadership.  In the spring of 2016, we finally had an approved plan with a budget attached! I loved the plan, as it truly demonstrated the heart of the “Think Tank” and my values as a leader – student centered and collaborative.

The Newcomer Program started with a proposal for up to 40 students at one high school.  Those students were all officially 9th graders (by credit count), though they ranged in age from 17-20.  (Our 14-16 year old 9th graders entered the traditional high school program with ESL support.) We also targeted students who had significantly interrupted or minimal education and literacy before arriving to our school.  Our goal was to build this program over the school year so it could be replicated at other locations in the future.

So here are the basic structures of the Newcomer Program plan…..

10:20 a.m. – Student Arrival – We had found that many students were working late hours and struggled to make it to (or be awake in) the 7:20 a.m. traditional 1st period class.  This led us to create a different schedule for our target group.

10:30 – Lunch – We began our students’ day by making sure they were fed and ready to learn.  This time also allowed for community building and for them to interact with students outside of the Newcomer Program.

science811:00 – First Class (traditional school 3rd period) – ESOL 1 – Students began their day in ESOL class with a hands-on, project based learning curriculum that allowed for language and content development to happen simultaneously.  ESOL 1 also counted as 1 English credit towards graduation requirements, as it was our goal to get as many students as possible to graduation, as quickly as possible.

Monthly social/emotional support lessons were also built into this class period.  A bilingual school counselor and bilingual social worker from the International Student Services Office (ISSO) led the monthly social/emotional support lessons.  We also had the support of the Hispanic liaison officer from the Annapolis Police Department, who often led the lesson for our young men or joined the full group.  These visiting professionals were trained in the “Joven Noble” (males) and “Xinachtli” (females) cultural healing curricula from the National Compadres Network and utilized those teachings within their monthly sessions.

Catherine's african mask12:30 p.m. – Second Class – Elective Credit – Foundations of Art, 3D Art, Team Sports – This class satisfied a graduation requirement and allowed students time to build their social language in a more relaxed atmosphere.  During this class period, students were integrated with other students who were not part of the Newcomer Program.  (NOTE:  Teachers for the first and second classes were paid through regular high school teaching positions as part of their duty day.)

2:00 p.m.   Break

(NOTE:  Because our Newcomer Program 3rd and 4th class period had not previously existed at the high school, as traditional students were dismissed at 2:00 p.m., teachers for these classes were paid through a combination of Evening High School funding and Title III supplemental support.  The Newcomer Program became a small group within the existing Evening High School Program, allowing us to maximize existing staffing.)

2:15 p.m. – Third Class – Science –The science course was co-taught by a certified science20161208_145019 teacher and a certified ESOL teacher.  We selected a science course from our high school Program of Studies that was the most hands-on.  This course also fulfilled a graduation requirement.

3:00 – Fourth Class – Elective – Some students choose to participate in the Culinary Arts foods4program which is part of the school system’s Career and Technology Education Program. This course already existed in the Evening High School.  A certified ESOL teacher was added for support. The Culinary Arts program was quite popular, as many students were working in restaurants and understood the benefit of working  towards a  ServSafe Certification.  Other students participated in the “Stretch Your Wellness” course where they practiced yoga and followed a health/physical education curriculum.  Some students also participated in Spanish I, which was focused on developing literacy skills for native speakers.yoga3

4:30 – Dismissal and Bus Transportation – Bus transportation was provided to various locations around Annapolis through a partnership with the school system’s magnet programs that ran after school hours.

We ended the year with approximately an 85% completion rate. This was SIGNIFICANTLY higher than what we had experienced with older newcomers in the traditional school program.  Here is what I learned in the process of watching the Newcomer Program staff embrace the students and their own leadership:

  • If you take teachers who have a passion for what they do, and give them some structure and creative freedom, they come out with amazing results!
  • A well-planned first year of schooling in the United States, with adults who understand the power of relationships, provides a solid foundation for future success.
  • Students need options that respect the numerous challenges and responsibilities they juggle daily. Alternative schedules, transportation, career skills, first language literacy, acculturation, and relationships are all crucial elements.

As the program continues to morph and grow, I’d love to see a continued focus on collaboration – truly it takes a village to have success.  Conversations with our local community college focused on expanding the career training options are promising.  An agreement between the Department of Labor and State Department of Education now allows the school to teach GED preparation courses for students who fit a specific profile, greatly benefiting those older students who just don’t have time to graduate. Exploring options with the school system’s External Diploma program will also provide a variety of options for students to earn a diploma.

More than anything, our students need options and our commitment to provide the best possible foundation.  With that, they are usually more than willing to do the rest!

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A few weeks of whole to part…..

Last year at this time I was the English Language Acquisition Coordinator for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, in Annapolis, Maryland, supervising the educators who served the needs of a growing community of immigrant and bilingual students. Stressed and a bit weary after 6 years of navigating our political climate, I took a leap, and returned to the school setting as a mentor teacher. I needed to step away from trying to manage the whole situation until I could be reminded of the WHY and how all the parts fit together.

Part of my reasoning behind changing positions was to give myself a sort of sabbatical, a venue for visiting classrooms in a variety of content areas, spending more time with teachers, catching up on new classroom technology ideas, and learning from everyone and everything around me. This week I was inspired by a dance class where small groups choreographed the ending of a dance and performed. It was amazing.  Everyone dancedanced.  Everyone smiled.  There are five students in this class who are part of the “functional life skills” program, meaning they manage significant challenges and need extra support.  After this group performed, I had the best conversation with one of the dancers.  She said, “I can’t move as fast as they do.  I can’t roll on the floor and get back up.  I missed a few steps, but I got back in.  It was like my own solo.”  I told her how much I love her attitude and I wanted to bottle whatever it is this teacher is doing to make every student in the class embrace their solo.  This first-year teacher has truly grasped the value of relationships.  I am re-energized by the parts I see come together each day in working with new teachers as they learn to create their whole. Taking these parts that I come across and sharing them with other educators, THAT is what makes me whole.

I recently had the privilege of spending a week in Madison, Wisconsin, for the WIDA IMG_6945Licensed Trainer Institute. It was 4.5 days of intensive training on 9 different WIDA workshop and training plans.  I spent that 4.5 days with dedicated WIDA facilitators, as well as with 8 other participants from around the country. Talk about impressive!  I learned so much each day from this group.  Each person brought such a wealth of varied experiences to the room.  The program as a whole will be very strong, because each of the parts are individually amazing. Although I am still recovering from eating fried cheese curds more times that week than I’d like to admit, I am excited that I will have the opportunity to meet even more new people through the work with WIDA and WCEPS in the future.

piclabAfter a weekend of recovery from brain and cheese curd overload, I was off for a quick spin at the WIDA Conference in Tampa. Meghan Gregoire-Smith, Lindsay O’Keefe, and I presented “From Whole to Part – Early Literacy Instruction for English Learners” to a full room of participants. I fully enjoyed presenting with Meghan and Lindsay again (as we had a number of time before I left my position at the central office).  The 75 minute session flew by, as our participants were fully engaged, asking questions, sharing insights…everything a presenter could wish for at a conference (including no technology glitches!).

I am particularly proud of this presentation, because it embodies the essence of the culture of our English Language Acquisition Office in Anne Arundel County, MD, over the past 6 years. From the document correlating WIDA Performance Descriptors with Fountas and Pinnell reading levels, to the impromptu sketches explaining our approach to instruction to an assistant principal, to the professional development we designed which aligns our “whole to part” process across schools and now to the conference, our presentation represents who I am as a professional, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Collaboration. Team.  Outreach.  This one presentation represents almost two years of collaboration between the English Language Acquisition Office, the Elementary Reading Office, the Early Childhood Office, administrators, and teachers to share best practices for early literacy instruction for English learners.  While I am no longer in that office, I carry the best practices with me wherever I go and I find great reward each time I see a teacher tweet about their latest “Whole to Part” lesson.

The conference participants gave such positive feedback and encouraged us to take the “Whole to Part” messages into an online course to share with even more people. So, WE ARE!!  Lots of great work ahead and I couldn’t be more excited!

I hope you have a wonderful end to your weekend, recharged where you can notice all the parts that make your whole worthwhile.

 


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