PodcastPodcastTch Talks 26: Creating a Sense of Belongingness with an Academy for Newcomers

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What’s possible for newcomer education? And how can we accelerate language learning, affirm students’ identities, and help them get on track to graduation and post-secondary opportunities, while creating a learning community of high supports and high expectations?

ENLACE, a program for ninth and tenth grade newcomer students at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts, is working hard to answer these questions. On this episode of Tch Talks, Allison Balter, founding principal of ENLACE, shares her story of getting ENLACE started two years ago and what she’s learned from this experience so far. She talks about how teachers at ENLACE work towards supporting students’ learning of both content and language simultaneously. Allison also describes how ENLACE helps students feel a sense of belonging when they are physically so far away from their home countries. Listen in to find out more.

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My Immigrant Story : Sí Se Puede!

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I’ll never forget the last day I walked out of Martin Van Buren High School. The tears rolling down my cheeks weren’t happy tears as I once imagined. Instead, they were tears of sadness, disappointment, and frustration. I wasn’t going to graduate from high school.

I earned every credit required for graduation. I gave everything I had as a newcomer. I learned the language. All these efforts… and nothing to show for them.

Having a career and becoming a teacher now seemed like an impossible dream to achieve. The sense of failure was so strong within me. For the next six years, I suppressed everything I knew to be true about myself.

But in the end, my failures have been nothing more than a detour on the path to reaching my goals.

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My Immigrant Story: Embracing Education, Navigating Failure

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I love the time of year when parents proudly post and share their children’s prom and graduation pictures. It’s — without a doubt — an accomplishment worthy of celebration.

Emily graduation photoThis might not be the best graduation picture you’ve ever seen — it’s not even an original. But, it’s the only picture I have of my graduation day.

Here I am, in a cap and gown that I wasn’t permitted to wear after taking this picture. This picture, for so many years, represented a personal narrative of failure.

I encourage you to read about my personal journey from Guatemala to the United States. These posts provide some background on my early years, my journey to America, and ultimately, how I arrived at my graduation day.

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Professional Conversations Around a Tch Video

Tchers' Voice: Great ideas from passionate educators just liek you

Learning from Teaching

As teachers, how do we learn in and from practice?

One way is to study practice, both our own practice and that of others. In this blog series, I’ll share some of the ways I learn in and from practice, focusing on student learning and the intersection between teaching and learning. Centered in my work as an elementary teacher and math coordinator, I’ll write, and sometimes co-write with colleagues — this week with Nick — about some of the experiences I’ve found most useful for my own learning and practice. Each blog post will include a framework or questions to engage and support others in implementing these ideas and inviting ongoing collaboration.

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Professional Conversations Around a Tch Video Clip

Have you ever really thought about how watching a Teaching Channel video can contribute to your professional learning?

In our work together as colleagues, we often use video to dive into the details of children’s thinking and to explore teachers’ in-the-moment decision making. Nick and I recently watched a Tch video clip that features a kindergarten class engaging in a true/false routine. As we watched the clip together, we thought about some of the different ways we saw students participating, what we learned about their thinking, what we wondered about, and we reflected on how the teacher supported the conversation.

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My Immigration Story: New Land, New Opportunity

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It was November of 1993 when we started packing the few items we had to join my mother in the United States.

My little sister and brother were lucky to make it to the U.S. in a month. Their father was able to bring them without any problems. They were able to spend Christmas with our mother and the family.

The journey from Guatemala to the U.S. was different for me and my two younger sisters. My mother made arrangements for coyote “smugglers” to bring us across the border. Mid-November the strangers came to collect us, but we trusted that they’d take us where we needed to go.

We were very fortunate that the group took good care of us during our travels. They gave us food to eat, a comfortable place to sleep, and we never needed anything. Still, we would wake up — day after day — wondering if that was the day we would finally reunite with our mother.

family in Guatemala

We traveled on land for several days. We rode cars, buses, trains, horses, and we also walked. We were desperate to see our mother. We weren’t allowed to communicate with her at all — or with anyone else.

Meanwhile, our mother lived in fear for two months — not knowing where we were or whether we were safe. My experience as an unaccompanied minor was very stressful. I was unsure, at times, about what was going to happen. Yet, it wasn’t even close to what others endure to make the journey to the United States. My sisters and I were very fortunate to have made the journey in safety.

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I Am Going To The Getty Villa! An Ability Guidebook

Tchers Voice: Special Education

Every teacher knows the value of a field trip, and I love that David Cooper takes his students to the J. Paul Getty Villa every year. I have a deep love for museums, but the truth is, a museum can be a difficult place for students with special needs.

A lapse of control in the grocery store might end up breaking a jar or two and cost a few dollars. A lapse of control in the Getty Villa might put an ancient Greek Statue at risk.

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My Immigrant Story: Struggle, Solidarity, and Serendipity

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by Teaching Channel’s Vice President of Engagement, Paul Teske

Paul TeskeThis summer, I was humbled and energized by the diversity, compassion, and wisdom of the educators that we convened as part of the Fab Five ELL Squad and California District EL Network. The goal of our gathering was to deepen our understanding of how best to serve bi- and multi-literate students. With the generous support of the Helmsley and Stuart Foundations, we came together to share our challenges and collective wisdom.

With the support of Sarah Ottow from Confianza, each member of the ELL Squad had a project with distinct goals for better understanding their puzzles of practice. Our Fab Five ELL Squad will be sharing their useful work in the upcoming months.

Emily Francis of Cabburas County Schools, North Carolina, is our next ELL Fab Five Squadster up to bat. Emily provides joy and depth to her work with elementary students — it’s a passion that has recently been noticed by People Magazine and Ellen DeGeneres. Her focus is on building a safe and inclusive environment for students AND families, since this provides the foundation for all things academic.

Emigrating to the U.S. from Guatemala as a child, Emily’s personal story illustrates the mixed feelings and experiences of hope and, conversely, educational alienation of many newcomers to the U.S., and it also supplies us with inspiration of how one’s experience can deeply inform one’s work that, in turn, nurtures the academic and personal lives of bi-literate and multi-literate students.

Stories such as hers often get lost in the broad conversations about immigrants and refugees; however, knowing the stories provides a context from which we can build compassion and understanding. And as educators, the stories help us understand our students better. We know you’ll enjoy Emily’s work and words as much as we do.

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Ella Fitzgerald quoteTo be honest, I’m not sure to what Ella Fitzgerald was referring when she said these words. To me, where I came from counts — a lot! But since I moved to the United States from Guatemala, I’ve been sharply focused on the future.


I was born in Guatemala and lived there for 15 years. I’m the oldest of five children — four girls and a boy.

My mother was a single mother who worked day and night to provide for her children as best she could. I didn’t live with my mother until I was seven years old; instead, I stayed with family members or sitters since my mother often had to work.

Life was very difficult for me and my siblings during our childhood. We all encountered verbal and physical abuse, not to mention all the domestic chores we were expected to do on a daily basis.

As the oldest child, it was my job to care for my sisters and brother while our mother was working. I was also responsible for cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and the like. I wasn’t the best cook back then, and I’m sure my sisters will never forget the first time I made them scrambled eggs — I didn’t know I was supposed to let the eggs “gel” and cook before I served them… so they were a little runny.

I went to school when I could — when my mom was home. But I moved from school to school, from teacher to teacher often. All in all, there might have been one or two school years when I completed an entire year at the same school.

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Five Assessment Myths and Misunderstandings

Tchers' Voice: Great ideas from passionate educators just like you

Walking around the classroom, clipboard in hand, I moved as quickly as possible, diligently checking for homework completion, assigning five points to those who had it done, two-and-a-half to those who had it partially done, and zero to those who didn’t do it. It was super scientific and truly measured learning… (he says sarcastically).

Luckily for my students, since then I’ve grown quite a bit in my understanding of assessment practices, and as I look back at them over the past 14 years, it’s not with disgust (although that would be justified at times), but with hope — and the knowledge that change is possible. I author this piece not to judge current practices, but in the hopes that some of the ideas below might shed new light on ways to take a fresh approach to assessment, and improve learning for all students.

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