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
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
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
A 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
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.
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
“Miss, I need to talk to you,” said Adil urgently, stopping me in the hallway.
Adil, who is originally from Yemen, was elected a Tenth Grade Senator by his classmates.
Adil looked intense. “When can we start the animal care class? And the French class?” Continue reading
Awa 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
“That’s my butterfly!”
Marcus pointed to a butterfly drawing, part of an elaborate book project displayed in the 9th grade hallway.
Marcus is a 9th grader with a semi-permanent frown who had recently been suspended for fighting. He’s originally from Honduras, has lived in New York for two years, and is self-conscious about his English– too self-conscious to notice that his English is far better than most of his classmates.* He gives the impression, “I’m a loner– don’t mess with me.” Continue reading