A test and a passion for eggs

eggs.jpgOur high school is made up almost entirely of newcomer immigrant English Language Learners.  Every May we give students a required test that measures English proficiency.  

The test includes a a 15 minute speaking portion, which is delivered 1:1 by a teacher.  The speaking test starts with a simple Warm Up: “A. What is your favorite animal?  B. What do you like to do at school? C. Tell me about your favorite foods.”  The teacher then asks the student a longer series of questions from a booklet.  Topics range from doctors to telescopes.

In our school, we enlist all teachers to administer the speaking test: physical education teachers, art teachers, math teachers, everyone.   Continue reading

We want a mascot

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One of the students’ illustrations for a mascot: a panther.

I’m always fascinated by what gets kids excited about school.

Take a 12th grade student in my school, Rebecca.*  Rebecca is known for a sweet smile and enthusiastic participation.  However, at some point this year, everything got cloudy for her: nothing in school was fun or exciting.  A few teachers told me that she might have had a falling out with some friends, hence the blue outlook, but Rebecca wouldn’t tell us what was bothering her.

A few weeks later, I got an email from Rebecca and some of her classmates: Continue reading

Come for the pizza, stay for the math

Flat lay composition slices of pizza with bacon, cheese and tomaOur students are passionate about food.  This past week, I was reminded of how that passion can actually support learning.

Our school is participating in NYC’s innovative Participatory Budgeting Program for students, in which the student body is given $2000 to spend on the school, using a democratic process to propose ideas and vote on them. The first thing the students came up with was “better food.”  Given that our students are from cultures all over the world, this was not a huge surprise.  Through the program, the students learned that spending the money on food would not be a sustainable project; it would result in perhaps one to two meals for the entire school, and then the money would be gone.  They quickly moved on to other ideas.

However, the students’ passion about the topic gave me pause.  Continue reading

Walking out with respect

20190325_174235.jpgThe New Zealand mosque shooting had particular resonance for my students.  My school is for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners and many of our students are Muslim.  The day after the shooting, a girl who is not Muslim came in with a poster she had made on her own stating “We stand with our Muslim neighbors.” It was the first of several events last week that showed me a new level of leadership among my students.

Our school is housed in a building with five other public high schools.  Students from one of the others schools decided to organize a student walkout on Friday in response to the New Zealand shooting to protest hate crimes, gun violence, and show support for the victims.  It would be peaceful, no longer than 40 minutes, and take place on the athletic field.  Students from our campus had participated in last year’s walkout around the Parkland school shooting, and it had been safe and organized.  All seemed fine.

On Tuesday, my assistant principal called me: “Julie, did you know that our students were planning on walking out tomorrow– Wednesday, not Friday? Apparently there’s a big thing on social media.   Continue reading

In my school we sat on benches

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Student portrait, art class at High School of Language and Innovation 

As a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners, our students come from all over the world: Dominican Republic, Yemen, Bangladesh, several countries in Africa, Albania, China, Vietnam, to name a few.

However, we don’t know much about school in our students’ countries.  Recently, I decided to simply ask: what was learning like in your country?

I was prompted to do this because our school had visitors last week.  A group of new teachers were touring the school to learn best practices for supporting English Language Learners.

As part of the visit, I organized a student panel with two of my teachers.  The teachers choose five 9th and 10th graders and ensured they represented several countries:  Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Albania.  The students had lived in the U.S. anywhere from 4 months to 2 years.  Continue reading

Narrowing gaps behind-the-scenes

blue sky 2What impacts student learning?  Teachers, school leaders, counselors, parent-school partnerships.  Access to quality books and materials, curriculum.

And seemingly mundane things.  Like air conditioners.

NYC Mayor DiBlasio introduced an initiative to put an air conditioner in every NYC classroom by 2022.  Next week, our school is getting eight new air conditioners funded by the city.  (Thank you Mayor!)

However, since summer, when the city surveyed our school, several more ACs had broken.  I decided to replace these ACs from our school budget before Spring when classrooms would get hot.  Continue reading

No school, no dance?

glow sticks dance.jpgA couple of weeks ago, Sami arrived at our school dance.  Sami is a dynamic 12th grader who is passionate about basketball and Star Wars.  He is a charmer and a social butterfly.  He looked excited at the entrance to the dance, surrounded by his friends, ready to pay his $5 entrance fee.

The only problem was, he had skipped school that day.  In fact, he had skipped many days of school this year: over 30 days.

One of the biggest predictors of student success is attendance.  My school is comprised of 380 students, most of whom are newcomer English Langauge Learners.  Missing even one day of school can throw learning off-course. Continue reading