From Albania to Dominican Republic

20181222_100917.jpg

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

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

Hot chocolate on a Saturday

hot chocolate Saturday school“We just cancelled Saturday school,” said an assistant principal from another school as he walked to his car.  Sleet pecked us as we paused to talk in front of our shared Bronx campus.  “Only two kids showed up, and most of the teachers had to call out because of the roads.” 

So to cancel or not to cancel?  As a principal, I normally don’t have this power, and the mayor of New York City decides whether or not to cancel school.  However, this was Saturday school, which we start running in December to give students extra tutoring before January exams, and it was my call.   Continue reading

The things are not so easy

immigrant students in schoolIn one of our English as a New Language classrooms,* students were given index cards with the task “Describe yourself in six words,” and then instructed to post the cards on a bulletin board.  The cards said so much: “I miss my friends in Vietnam,” “I want to be a doctor,” “I think more than I speak.”  One was written by Carlos, who came to this country last year from the Dominican Republic: “The things are not so easy.”   Continue reading