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Helping Middle and High School 'Newcomers' Succeed

English-language learners are not a monolithic category of students in our public schools, though they are often treated as such in education policymaking. It's true that ELLs as a broad category struggle to succeed in school, but perhaps no slice of this subgroup struggles as much as the immigrant students who begin learning English in middle or high school.

These adolescent "newcomers" face multiple learning challenges—developing proficiency in English, learning core content in academic subjects and navigating a new culture all within a compressed time frame.

But there are a small number of programs up and running in school districts around the U.S. that are figuring out just how to meet the specialized needs of these students, according to a new national research study from the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Helping Newcomer Students Succeed in Secondary Schools and Beyond—which was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York—draws on survey data collected over three years from newcomer programs at middle and high schools across the nation. CAL researchers Deborah J. Short and Beverly A. Boyson compiled a searchable database of these programs. The research project identifies 63 programs that meet the criteria of serving immigrant newcomers, and, not surprisingly, Texas, New York, and California have the most. But there are some unlikely locations for these programs too, like the upscale mountain outpost of Jackson Hole, Wyo., and West Fargo, N.D. Just over half of the programs (52 percent) are in urban areas, 33 percent are in the suburbs, and 14 percent are located in rural areas.

Short and Boyson take a closer look at 10 programs that they found to show the most promise for educating these vulnerable youngsters:

Academy for New Americans, Intermediate School 235
in Long Island City, N.Y.
Columbus Global Academy 6-12 in Columbus, Ohio
ESL Teen Literacy Center Program (middle school and high school) in Omaha, Neb.
High School of World Cultures in the Bronx, N.Y.
Intensive English, Dayton Learning Center in Dayton, Va.
International High School at Lafayette in Brooklyn, N.Y.
International Newcomer Academy in Fort Worth, Texas
Newcomer Center 214 in Arlington Heights, Ill.
Port of Entry Program, Union City High School in Union City, N.J.
Salina Intermediate Literacy Newcomer Center in Dearborn, Mich.

The researchers carefully point out that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping newcomers get a strong foothold and succeed in school given their differences in countries of origin, native language and educational experiences.

But some common features of the successful programs that they recommend for replication elsewhere include setting academic and social goals for these students and designing programs to meet them, defining entry and exit criteria for students, promoting development of students' native language skills and incorporating native language instruction into curriculum where possible, providing extra learning time, engaging and supporting families of newcomers, recruiting and retaining teachers who have been trained to work with newcomers, and providing professional development for teachers who'll receive newcomers after they exit the program.

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