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

Dance, dance, dance

glow sticksI find my students touching, and often cute.  However, in thinking of them as “cute,” I don’t always see their wisdom.

Three 12th grade students approached me a few weeks ago.  I call them my “movers and shakers.”  They are active in student government and always looking to plan new activities.

“We want to have a ‘Glow in the Dark’ party,” said Stephanie.*

“Yeah!  Kids are getting stressed out studying for Regents exams and this will be fun,” added Hassan.**

I did what I often do with kids: I told them I would think about it and get back to them. Continue reading

The Smell of Oranges

orange peelAs the principal of a high school that serves newcomer English Language Learners, I track many pieces of students data: progress with English, attendance, participation in clubs and sports, grades, test scores, etc.

Yet sometimes, a seemingly insignificant moment teaches me more about my school than any piece of official data.

Last week, I was walking past the cafeteria while my students were eating lunch.  I heard the normal sounds of lunchtime: over 300 students talking loudly, the occasional shriek of laughter or flirtation.

And, the smell of oranges.  Continue reading

The Pressure to Punish

Snowing in the Bronx

Right before winter break started, a teacher approached me, visibly upset. A student had sent him an email saying, “I hate you” and wishing the teacher a “horrible” winter break, among some other unkind things.

What had preceded this email? The teacher explained that he had called the student’s parents in for a meeting regarding the student’s behavior. Afterwards, the student had sent the angry email to the teacher. (On a positive note, the email was clearly written and formatted correctly, a “modern skill” we now teach in our English classes.)

Continue reading

From Albania to Dominican Republic

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A student in traditional Albanian dress.

I am the principal of a truly multicultural school: almost all of the students in my school are newcomer immigrants from over 23 countries all over the world.

Three years ago, we started a tradition of having “cultural assemblies” in which students from each culture would lead a school-wide assembly sharing the history, music, dance, dress, and customs of their culture.

This year, we started with the Albanian assembly.  Our Albanian population is relatively small, and deeply proud of their culture.  My staff had always told me that the Albanian assembly was beautiful but at times, the most challenging to organize: the students are brilliant and dynamic.  However, the students also have strong opinions and disagreements about their history and traditions.  Continue reading