SIOUX CENTER—The Sioux Center Community School District expanded its newcomer program by creating a middle school version this year.
Faby Addink, who helped the high school implement a newcomer program in 2014, gave the reigns of the high school program over to new English language instructor Nancy Robles in order to take on the new middle school program.
“In the last couple of years I had been working with all newcomers fifth- through eighth grade but with the growth in the middle school, and the changing needs of the students, we saw a need to add another teacher specifically for the middle school,” Addink said.
The newcomer program through the school district focuses on helping students who are both nonproficient in Spanish and not up to grade level become proficient in English and be on grade level with their peers in most subjects.
“When we first started the program for just high school, those students were often on grade level, they just didn’t know the language,” Addink said. “What was happening is that we had more students coming in the lower grades that weren’t on grade level. That meant more students were behind when it came to the content. They had never been exposed to science before so how do we expect a student who’s never been taught science to jump into a sixth-grade science lesson? We saw a need to provide more help at the middle school level.”
Sixty-three students are part of the new middle school (grades fifth- through eighth) newcomer program. The majority are from Guatemala or Mexico.
Each new student to the school district receives several types of assessments to determine their grade level and English proficiency.
As a result, some students who are newcomers to the school are placed into regular classes because they’re on grade level with their knowledge.
Other students may not be new to the United States but could use support in language and classroom work.
“The goal is for students to be in the program no more than a year,” Addink said.
While some middle school newcomers may spend all their time involved in the newcomer program, others may take part in three Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, or SIOP, classes —math, science and social studies. Theses courses are co-taught with Addink and other teachers to give students gaining knowledge and proficiency another step, often focusing on learning basic terms of that subject, before entering the regular classroom with their peers.
Previously, to exit program, students had to be proficient on school’s English Language Proficiency Assessment, or ELPA , and they needed to be proficient in reading and math of the Iowa Assessments.
“What we found is that some kids don’t struggle with the language, they just struggle with reading or math,” Addink said. “But because of both those requirements, they were still listed in the newcomer program when we felt they didn’t need to be. So this is the first year a student can exit program just based on school’s ELPA.”
A difference between the middle school and high school newcomer programs is that the younger students are often at school every day.
“With the older students, they often felt pressure from their families to work so sometimes they’d come off an eight-10 hour shift and come to school. Or they just wouldn’t come to school. I think the younger we get them, the chances of them graduating increases. I don’t blame high schoolers when they see the requirements to graduate. It’s daunting. It’s almost like they feel like they’re never going to get there so why even try?”
“At the middle school, they don’t have that pressure as much and they’re younger, which I think they’re less afraid of making mistakes and that a lot of times how you learn a language is using it,” Addink continued. “They might be making mistakes all the time, but they’re using the language and gaining confidence.”
Addink believes the district having such a newcomer program shows just how much the district cares for students.
“Sioux Center is a district that cares about every student, especially ELs,” she said. “There’s so much time invested into how can we meet the needs of our English learners, which I think opens up opportunities for these students.
“Sometimes it seems, especially for Hispanic students, they don’t see there’s something beyond high school for them or that a diploma is not attainable,” Addink continued. “I want them to see that’s not true. I’m an example. I grew up in Sioux Center, came here when I was three with my family and we didn’t speak English. We had to struggle through. I didn’t have this type of support, but I’m a teacher now. I love being part of this program but I want to provide that kind of support — that they can dream of being doctors, lawyers, teachers — to the students.”