Contained Curiosity

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After-school drumming class.

A month ago, our school transformed at lunchtime.  Our noisy, boisterous cafeteria became almost quiet.  Half of the tables were empty.

It was the beginning of Ramadan and a large number of our students were fasting.  Some fasting students still chose to go to the cafeteria.  Many more stayed in classrooms supervised by teachers, away from the smell of food, playing chess, using computers, doing homework, or just sitting and chatting with one another.

About 40% of our students are Muslim.  Continue reading

45 minutes of home

art photography by julie nariman

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

Taking care among glow sticks

Glow stick photo by julie narimanA school is a place where people interact.  It’s easy to rush ahead and think these interactions don’t matter.  After reading about the staff and students in Parkland, Florida, I was reminded of how much of an impact people can make in each other’s lives.  I experienced this impact as I supervised a school dance yesterday.

The student government had planned the dance with a “Glow in the Dark” theme and bought hundreds of plastic glow sticks that students could wear like necklaces or bracelets.  However, nothing was glowing, and not many kids were dancing.  It was still daylight and sunlight was streaming through the large gym windows.  My assistant principal gave a pep talk to the demoralized student government so they could get past their disappointment.  It worked.   Continue reading

Stiven’s precious point

art photography by julie nariman

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.

Continue reading

The parent at school, the teacher at home

Rafael Nariman in Class of 1955

My dad attended a school vastly different from mine.  He grew up in Spain and learned multiplication tables by singing them in a classroom chorus led by a priest.  I learned my multiplication tables by using flashcards.

As a kid, I remember arguing with my dad about math homework.  Specifically, it was about problem-solving in algebra: my teacher had taught me one way to solve problems, and my dad wanted to show me an easier way.  I would listen to my dad (probably not for long) and then, frustrated, huff and puff that I was going to “do it the teacher’s way” because his way was confusing. Continue reading

I’ll give you my right arm

immigrant studentsAwa sobbed in our office.  “Can’t you just let me try?” she pleaded.

Awa, an 11th grader who came from Senegal in 9th grade, was begging to take the New York State English Regents exam in January.  We told her she’d take it in June when she had completed the coursework for the exam.  She left in tears.  

When I started our school in 2011,* I thought that the experience of taking a state exam was so valuable that it was worth letting a student try, even if they weren’t 100% prepared.   Continue reading