Like all public high schools in New York City, my school is operating remotely. Overall, it’s going well, yet it’s also easy for students to disappear.
To find these students, I’ve started to do home visits with my assistant principal Yan. We look up the addresses, create a route, and set off on our journey. We usually don’t announce our visits.
Such was the case with Xavier.* As he was new to our school this year, I had never met him in person, and we didn’t even have a photo of him. Xavier had done a few assignments in September and October, but had since drifted away, completing nothing and never coming to online classes. When we called his mother, she seemed confused: “He’s on the computer all day!”
We arrived at Xavier’s apartment on a sunny Friday afternoon, crunching through a layer of snow on the sidewalk. We hit the buzzer until a neighbor let us in. Continue reading
This year, my school is focusing on raising the achievement of boys. I’ve learned that supporting boys goes beyond good teaching: we need to show boys more options for how to “be a man.”
Most boys have an idea of what it is to be a man. It’s often a child’s idea of being “hard” or “tough,” “independent.” A principal colleague of mine said he and his staff consciously teach their 9th graders to lose the “tough guy” attitude and just be kids; be students.
This week, I found myself in a conference with a student, Hassan,* and one of my teachers, Matt. Hassan had hit another student who had been calling him a “little boy” and making teasing gestures towards him.
In the past, we might have said, “The next time someone teases you, tell a teacher or administrator.” However, we saw that an 18-year-old boy who sees himself as a man may not want to run to a teacher to solve his problems.
I live in the Bronx only a 15 minute walk from my school. One advantage of living close to school is that I have a beautiful, easy commute, and another advantage is that I sometimes see my students outside of school.
I saw one of my students the other day at the supermarket standing in one of the checkout lines. Usually, I’m happy to see a student, but I wondered if this student, Michael,* would be happy to see me. The last time I saw him, he had gotten extremely angry and physically shoved furniture in our school offices. This wasn’t his first nor his last outburst. Michael’s family had decided to send him to live with relatives in another school district to give him a restart. We all knew Michael was a brilliant young man with lots of potential, but it seemed hard for him to control his anger. Continue reading
Nothing makes me sadder than a kid sitting alone in the cafeteria. Sometimes, a student is sitting alone by choice—he or she simply prefers to be alone, perhaps reading a book, or taking a break from interaction.
Other times, a student sits alone because he or she is new, and is the only person who speaks his or her own language. The High School of Language and Innovation is a school for newcomer English Language Learners. Most new students that have a large same-language, same-culture group—Spanish, Arabic, Bengali, Albanian, French—will be quickly adopted into the group. If a student speaks a language like Vietnamese or Chinese, which are both small populations in our school, they might be alone if their 1-2 compatriots are absent. Continue reading
My school, the High School of Language and Innovation, is a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners that was founded in 2011. We had our first graduating class in 2015. This week, we graduated our fourth class, the class of 2018.
As I listened to the students’ speeches at graduation, I was struck by how many of the students had experienced our intended vision for the school: “We learned to work together as a team in order to learn English,” “We got to make friends with people from diverse cultures.”
However, even as I enjoyed the graduation, something was on my mind: 90% of our girls graduated. 51% of our boys graduated.*
I’m always surprised by how much I learn about our school from our prom. We recently held our prom earlier than most schools due to Ramadan, as we wanted more of our Muslim students to be able to attend.
Our high school is a school for newcomer English Language Learners from all over the world who have been in the USA less than 4 years. The students are excited by the idea of the prom but they don’t have a strong expectation of what it should be so there’s no comparison or disappointment.
Last week, I saw my school through new eyes.
We had a visit of 11 first-year teachers from other high schools, part of a new teacher support initiative in the Bronx. My school was one of 15 schools chosen for the visit with a focus on teaching methods for English Language Learners, as the majority of our students are newcomer immigrants who are learning English.
I told my leadership consultants, Ariel and Shya Kane, about the visit. “First-year teachers? They’re going to compare themselves if they feel insecure,” said Ariel. “Set them up to not compare, and look at your school with a beginner’s mind so they can learn.” Continue reading
Self-portrait created by a student at the High School of Language and Innovation.
“I don’t like social studies class,” Michael told me. Michael is a 9th-grade student from the Dominican Republic. “The kids at my table speak Arabic too much.”
Looking in on a class in my school, you’ll see groups of students composed of different cultures sitting together. Our school is for English Language Learners from all over the world. Complaints and situations like Michael’s are common, especially in 9th grade when many of the students are recent arrivals to the country meeting different cultures for the first time. We purposefully group students of different cultures together to promote the use of English, which can be tough at first as students are learning the language.
The cafeteria is a different story from the classroom. Continue reading
In 2005, I started working at a transfer high school for students ages 17-21 who needed to catch up academically. All of the students who attended the school came from regular New York City High Schools and had transferred to the school looking for another opportunity. I fell in love with the population and was inspired by how a new setting could create a second chance at success.
Five years later, I decided to submit a proposal for a transfer school through New York City’s Office of New Schools.
“Actually,” I was told by the office, “We don’t need any more transfer schools. We need regular schools. Why don’t you just open a regular high school that does such a good job, kids don’t need to go to transfer schools?”
Our school is a school for newcomer immigrant students who are learning English for the first time. Lots of students struggle at the beginning, and passing state exams can be daunting. Despite hard work, many students fail exams the first time.
On top of all of that, they are teenagers, and sometimes they fail because they’re distracted and despite our best efforts, take longer to be fully engaged in school. This was the case for one of our students, Stiven.