English language learners are a broad category of students that are at varying levels in their English language acquisition. A particular group within this population that require a lot of specialized attention and strategies are newcomers. Newcomers are students that have recently arrived to the United States from another country, and are trying to acquire the language on top of everything else they must face socially, emotionally and academically. At our site, a student is considered a newcomer for their first school year in the U.S.
Among the academic challenges that newcomers face, such as developing proficiency in a new language and accessing content in their core classes, they are also trying to navigate a system that is completely new to them. The very procedures and processes that keep a school running could be immensely challenging for newcomers that are unfamiliar with these routines. Their previous schools were likely conducted very differently, and in many cases, newcomers may not have had much school experience before (if at all). They may also be facing a lot of trauma from such a move, or from events that could have occurred before moving. This means that this has to be a huge focus of a newcomer program- and yes, there should definitely be a newcomer program in place whether your site sees 2-3 newcomers per year, or 200. What that program looks like will clearly differ, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but some processes should be in place to bring newcomers on board, as it will likely occur throughout the school year. Remember, newcomers truly need and deserve specialized attention to help them acclimate to their new environment.
At our site, we see a large number of newcomers yearly, and they continue to arrive throughout the year. In order to best meet their needs, we have a designated newcomer class for 2 periods in the morning. This class focuses not only on academic content, but aims at meeting some of the social emotional needs of newcomers. We intentionally placed this class in the morning, so that newcomers are able to start their day in a place where they feel comfortable and welcome. As previously mentioned, these students may be experiencing a great deal of emotional stress, which must be taken into consideration. To help address this, one of the key highlights of our program includes valuing, utilizing and incorporating the students’ home languages and cultures to their benefit. Equally important is the role of goal setting with students, both academically and socially. From this, we are able to tailor our program to help students reach their goals, and by frequent conferencing and progress check ins with students, they feel confident about meeting their goals and setting new ones.
Other important components include the emphasis on learning routines and procedures of our school, involving families when possible, especially in terms of sharing a set of clear entrance and exit criteria for the program, providing connections to content area classes, and continuing our support with newcomers once they have exited the program.
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