As a principal, I usually operate with generosity. That doesn’t mean my mind isn’t stingy.
A student can enter the school system at any point in the year, September to June. As a Bronx public high school for newcomer immigrants, we take kids in at any time, no matter when they arrive. About half of our students come from an NYC middle school, and the other half arrive throughout the year, days after their planes landed at JFK. We’ll welcome a student whenever they arrive.
On June 1st, I got an email from the Bronx office of enrollment: a student, Makeda,* had just arrived from Panama and was being placed in the 10th grade. I forwarded the email to my school’s New Admit team and wrote, “We have a new student.”
That is what I did.
It’s been a quiet year to work in a school building: 10 or fewer kids per class seated six feet apart, wearing masks, while the other 2/3 of our students did remote learning from home. No more interruptions or discipline problems. I felt almost like I had an office job, hopping onto Zoom meetings and online classrooms most of the day.
Before the pandemic, we had a system for responding to discipline or other classroom problems: teachers would send a group text, and an administrator or counselor would respond. However, this year, we hadn’t received a single “need help” text.
Suddenly, one day in May, I got a text from a teacher, Ms. M. “Can you come to room 304? I need help.”
For some students, remote learning has been a hurdle while for others, it’s transformed their lives for the better. Today I’m going to focus on the latter.
Lucas* is a 12th grader who initially started as a like-able yet hot-headed 9th grader—quick to get embroiled in conflict, yet also quick to smile. Over the years, we saw him mature, and even see him as a calming force for some friends.
He also has some challenges: Lucas is the devoted father of a sweet 18-month-old baby. However, as he has needed to take more responsibility in providing for his child, he started missing school in favor of work. Continue reading
Student artwork from the High School of Language and Innovation
Zamir* was a 12th grade student, originally from Albania. He had come to New York with his older sister when he was in the 10th grade, and hadn’t seen his parents for almost 3 years. His sister did her best to support him, but didn’t seem prepared to manage a teenage boy. She also had her hands full with a toddler and work.
Zamir developed a habit of coming extremely late to school, if he came at all. My assistant principal Shira and I had a meeting with him. We tried the usual motivations: “What do you want to do after high school?” and “Think of going back to Albania and showing your parents your high school diploma.”
In the past, Zamir would respond, “Yeah,” or “OK,” but something was different this time. He spoke honestly: “Those things don’t motivate me,” he said. Continue reading
I was sure Sophia* was going to become a teacher.
Sophia was a 12th grader who had shown a passion for teaching. Last summer, she tutored a group of classmates in history and did a great job. After the experience, Sophia told me she wanted to become a math teacher. I told her to reach out to us after college to teach at our school and she loved the idea. I even wrote about Sophia, calling her The First Hire of 2023 (link).
So this past June, I was surprised to see that Sophia had changed her mind. Continue reading
Students taking apart a computer in a computer science class at High School of Language and Innovation.
Eldan* is in the 10th grade. He’s charming, originally from Montenegro, and a talented soccer player. However, he frequently comes late to school and until we started to address it, he would often cut classes. We have a few Eldans in every grade: not openly resistant or disrespectful, but also not always able to see the point of school.
This year, I realized that rather than being frustrated by such behavior, I could be curious. Does Eldan see the point of school? Are we communicating that school is a “have to because you have to”? Or are we communicating that school is a “get to” that leads to possibilities?
Each year, one of the most exciting things we do is interview and hire new teachers. Now, in our school’s 8th year of existence, I realized a new possibility: we can hire our former students as teachers.
Since our school’s first year in 2011,* we have had students serving as tutors to other students. It started out as tutoring each other over the summer: kids who had passed state exams in math tutored those who had failed. The tutors earned a small stipend. That summer, many students passed the math exam.
Over the years, we’ve shifted the tutoring opportunities. Now, we give seniors who are on-track to graduate the opportunity to tutor their 12th-grade peers who need support or to serve as teacher assistants in 9th and 10th-grade classrooms. 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 is a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners. With recent events at the Mexican border, I have been thinking about the parents of my students and their journeys in coming to the United States with their children. This past week, I had the opportunity to speak with the father of Marcos. * Marcos is a student from Peru who came to the U.S. when he was in the 9th grade.
This past week, Marcos won an award for graduating seniors from the Bronx United Federation of Teachers. Marcos and 30 other students each won a laptop, a wireless printer and a backpack full of supplies, all to set them up for success in their first year of college. At the awards ceremony, I sat next to Marcos’s father and learned more about him. Continue reading
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.