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Students With Interrupted Schooling Get Extra Help in the Big Apple


Morry Bamba is one of New York City's "students with interrupted formal education," or SIFE. He attended school for the first time when he arrived in New York City from the West African nation of Guinea at age 15. He's now a student at the English Language Learners and International Support Preparatory Academy, or ELLIS Academy, in the Bronx, which enrolls immigrant students who have arrived in the United States as teenagers. Like many SIFE students, Morry struggles with reading.

He is one of the students who was interviewed in an article about SIFE students, "In School for the First Time, Teenage Immigrants Struggle," published by the New York Times over the weekend. He's also one of the students who I interviewed for Quality Counts 2009, "Portrait of a Population: How English-Language Learners Are Putting Schools to the Test." You can read his profile and those of other ELLs across the nation here.

The New York Times article says that the number of SIFE students in New York City has swelled by 50 percent from a decade ago. (The city's most recent demographic report, "New York City's English-Language Learners: Demographics, Summer 2008," counts 15,500 of the city's 148,000 as SIFE.)

I've run across other school systems in the country that also say their number of SIFE students is increasing. The New York Times article gives a sense of the intensive educational help some of these students need to stay in school and graduate.

Readers, if you have experience with SIFE students, please share what you've learned with the rest of us on this blog.


Call me wary but when I've seen "special programs" to help these kids, I worry about how effective they are. SIFE kids clearly need understanding and development of educational knowledge such as reading, writing, mathematics, social studies and science. I just worry about how expectations get thrown away or not met. I had two SIFE kids who began in 5th and 6th grade and now they are in line for the University of Rochester and the other is wildly succesful at St. Lawrence University. Some of these kids appreciate education more than most Americans but early on these kids were accused of being learning disabled, incapable and implied - dumb. A good foundation is important and making sure they eventually join their peers on grade level work is also. We did this by keeping the kids with the mainstream but pulling them out and teaching some lessons differently. The biggest challenges were reading, writing and math. It was difficult and confusing to find out how low to go and how to really support the process. We found out the hard way that oral proficiency was the key to getting the others done. SIFE kids may not know how to read and write but they often know more than one language and often 4 or 5! This helped them with the speaking and listening of English then the others followed. Before that, we hit a brick wall with reading, etc. Math was a problem too as they were learning another set of symbols and a cultural reasoning that might not be their own. The kids got it though.

I'm currently working on a research review of academic studies on teaching students with interrupted formal education to read. I would appreciate lists of your favorite sources. Information on classroom material that you have found effective would also be useful.

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