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High School for Newly Arrived ELLs Opens in San Francisco


The San Francisco school district opened a school at the end of last month that replicates ones for immigrant students that have a strong track record in New York City. Three years ago, the Oakland public school district became the first school district outside of New York City to open such a school.

The schools are called international high schools and they accept only English-language learners who have been in the United States for less than four years. They're part of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, and they all have the same approach to education.

Students with different levels of proficiency in English and academic knowledge are grouped together in classrooms. More typically, schools assign students to classes according to their proficiency in English. Instruction at the international high schools emphasizes hands-on learning. I featured the international high schools in New York City in a story I wrote about ELL graduation rates that was published this week at edweek.org. The average four-year graduation rate for the class of 2008 at the international high schools was 73 percent, higher than the graduation rate for all students in New York City, which was 56.4 percent.

Sonia Geerdes is the principal of the new international high school in San Francisco. The school opened Aug. 24 with 50 9th graders. It plans to add a grade each year. She said about 40 percent of the students are Spanish-speaking and another 40 percent are Chinese-speaking, which mirrors the immigrant population in San Francisco. The school still has room to enroll more students this school year.

Geerdes said the school is the first program for ELLs in the San Francisco school district that requires such students to meet the standards for high school graduation needed to enter the University of California system.

"We want to change the patterns for what is happening for ELLs in San Francisco," she said. "The graduation rates are dismal. College-going rates are even worse."

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