The beginning of this school year saw numerous media reports on public schools struggling to enroll and accommodate nearly 30,000 school-aged children who have arrived in New York City since April 2022. Fortunately, a group of schools and organizations are already doing this work and offer an inclusive and equitable model for welcoming newcomers in the classroom.
In a webinar hosted on December 13, 2023, by The New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, educators and professionals shared strategies for improving conditions for newcomer students. The event was co-hosted by the Internationals Network for Public Schools, The Century Foundation, and the National Newcomer Network.
Ivonne Mora, a teacher at International Community High School within the Internationals Network, highlighted the importance of identifying students who have had interrupted learning upon enrollment. Mora’s and other Internationals Network schools in NYC conduct multilingual screener interviews with newcomer students to determine their levels in both English and their native language.
This is important to gauge, Mora said, “because students who have a very low literacy level in their first language have an even harder time learning a second language.” She added that these interviews also allow educators to see what strengths the students bring to the classroom and what resources or additional support the individual student’s families need that could be addressed by partnering with a non-profit or community organization.
Another panelist, Melissa De Leon, principal at International High School at Lafayette, also brought up the importance of partnerships with organizations outside the school district itself. “We can’t do this work alone…some groups have specialized knowledge about legal aid or housing, others have access to the community,” she said, referencing the Internationals Network which connects partnering public schools with multilingual staff, curriculum, and national programs. De Leon’s school also partners with iMentor, a national non-profit organization that pairs students with college and career professionals and sets up internships for participating students.
These partnerships have also been a lifeline for newcomer students such as Adqas Shahnoory, an 11th-grader at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. She and her family were helped by Project Rousseau, a non-profit providing comprehensive immigration services for newcomer families.
But how should schools go about choosing the right partners? “The advice I would give would be to survey students and families to see what the top two or three needs are, then reach out to potential community partners who can help your school community,” De Leon said.
The webinar delved into policy matters with NY state assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (District 39). She highlighted on-going debates about government responsibility for funding newcomer support. Cruz and her colleagues are addressing this by passing legislation to expedite work visas for newcomers, aiming to relieve pressure on parents.
Attendees from New York City and across the nation followed the presentation with questions, digging deeper into the details of the best practices panelists shared.