Ensuring That Families Feel Welcome

Among the 600 students who attend the Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria in Queens, NY, 63 different languages are spoken at home. Principal Allison Persad and her staff not only serve their students academically, but they work to make sure every family feels welcome in the school community. Their efforts include:

  • Sending out information in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, Arabic, and Bengali. Staff also speak these languages.
  • Hosting a “taste of the world” potluck for incoming sixth graders.
  • Creating videos in families’ home languages to communicate about important events.
  • Pairing new students who speak little English with older students who speak English and the same home language.
  • Paying attention to cultural barriers that can prevent some students from taking advantage of out-of-school opportunities.

What Works for English Learners

English learners face many challenges, and they work through them thanks to educators and public schools. In a roundtable discussion, three school leaders share some ways they have worked with teachers of ELs to help students feel supported and ensure that newcomer families feel connected to the school community. These leaders include David Arencibia, the principal of Colleyville Middle School in Colleyville, TX, and the 2022 Texas Principal of the Year; LeAnne McCall, the principal of Lowndes High School in Valdosta, GA, and the 2022 Georgia Principal of the Year; and Stella Nwanguma, the principal of Winslow Township Middle School in Atco, NJ, and the 2022 New Jersey Principal of the Year.

A Comprehensive Approach to Serving Newcomers

During her education career, Mandy Manning was the first teacher for immigrant and refugee students at the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, WA. Those students, she says, “were the most intrinsically motivated and respectful” ones she worked with in her 21 years in the classroom. She offers some lessons from her experience:

  • The school created connections between English learners and U.S.-born students, which helped create a supportive and welcoming environment.
  • English language specialists trained other school staff on topics such as culture and learning preferences.
  • English language teachers advocated for food in the cafeteria to be labeled with pictures and words so all students would know what they were eating and be able to adhere to dietary restrictions.

Equity Through Grading

Too often, students want to do well in school but don’t have a clear understanding of what they must do to be successful. That was especially true for ELs and students in special education at Ashland Middle School in Ashland, OR, where Principal Steve Retzlaff and Associate Principal Katherine Holden led a transition from a letter grade system focused on points and percentages to a standards-​based proficiency system focused on skills and knowledge. “One of the guiding principles of this work was a focus on equal access so that all students could understand the goals of learning,” they write. In addition to working closely with teachers as they changed their practices, the leaders also anticipated parents’ questions and met with them often to clear up misconceptions.