So far, it’s working. Slater’s students were engaged in his dress-code presentation. They laughed at his photos and shouted ‘No!’ when he showed them a picture of bedroom slippers.
Another educator, Eileen McGinley, a member of the district’s English-as-a-new-language team, helped a lost student find his class when he emerged from the wrong room looking confused.
“What grade are you in?” McGinley asked.
“Nine…ninth,” he repeated.
She led him down the hallway to the math classroom where one of the two ninth-grade classes was already settled. He looked into the room and shook his head.
While walking to the next classroom, McGinley asked the boy his name. “Mbeomo,” he answered.
“I like,” McGinley said, gentling tugging on the sleeve of the boy’s tie-dye shirt.
“Do you know what color this is?” she asked him. “Green—verde—green,” she said, using the Spanish and English words for the color, though Mbeomo is from Tanzania and doesn’t speak Spanish. “Now you say it.”
“Green,” Mbeomo said tentatively. “Green.”
Together, the two tracked down Mbeomo’s correct class: English. He settled in and opened up his notebook, ready to learn some more new words.
The Newcomer program—based on the second floor of IPS’s Gambold building on the northwest side of city—is the first of its kind in Indiana. Cities like New York that have a long history of welcoming immigrants have had programs like this one for years, but IPS officials decided to add the program after realizing that the number of immigrants moving to the city has grown. The district educated 4,338 kids learning English last year, up from 2,970 students in 2006.
In this inaugural year, the district decided to target the program to adolescents because older kids are especially vulnerable to falling behind or having difficulty picking up a new language. The district plans to expand to grades three through six next year and serve up to 160 students.
IPS staffers prepared to open the school by visiting similar programs across the country. But staff did not have much time to get ready because the school board didn’t vote to approve the program until April. That left just four months to prepare the curriculum and recruit and train staff.
As a result, the school is “still working out the kinks,” said Jessica Feeser, who coordinates English-as-a-new-language programs for IPS and spearheaded the launch of the Newcomer program. That means that Feeser must fill in as the school coordinator—a role similar to principal—until the woman hired for that job can start in three weeks. It also means recruiting a social worker and school counselor—two jobs that remain unfilled. And it means ordering enough keys and walkie-talkies so that each staff member has one.
But even as they work out the logistics, the school’s teachers and staff say they have big goals for their students. “My vision is that we provide an environment where students are safe and feel welcome,” Feeser said. “And that they know their teachers are doing everything in their power to help them learn English.”