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High School can be a scary, intimidating time for students, especially those unfamiliar with the culture and language of their peers. The Introduction to America Program addresses the special challenges facing newly arrived immigrant high school students, with little or no English language skills, to the Yonkers Public Schools. Due to the lack of resources in the school system, these children often fall between the cracks, or worse become victims of bullying and gangs. The Introduction to America program will serve as an early intervention system to place and keep these students on the correct path and in a safe environment. It will work to create a comprehensive support system around these students through a partnership with the school and local bilingual community.
Background and Mission:
The JCY-Westchester Community Partners enriches the lives of thousands of children, families and older adults in Westchester County every year through a variety of effective learning initiatives. One of the most notable attributes of the JCY-WCP is the organization's ability to build coalitions and foster collaboration with other service agencies in our city and county, which aids in the efficient and effective administration of our programs. Each spring we have a diversity program that teaches over 2,000 inner-city school children tolerance, humanity and how to be an "upstander" as opposed to a bystander through our annual week long Holocaust Remembrance program. We raise funds for 17 scholarships annually for high school seniors in Yonkers regardless of race or ethnicity. We conduct intergenerational programs with an asset-based approach by utilizing the skills and life knowledge of our older adult population and putting it into service to help the children with the most need. We are proud that JCY-WCP has been serving the community for over 90 years and has evolved to serve underprivileged people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds living in Westchester County.
The mission of the JCY-Westchester Community Partners (JCY-WCP) is to enhance the educational experience of children in Westchester County through effective learning initiatives and the engagement of volunteer mentors.
Demographics and Community Needs
More than 26,000 students from 105 countries who speak 42 different languages comprise the student body of the Yonkers Public School system. As most urban school districts do, it faces numerous issues and challenges due to its diverse enrollment and minimal resources. 72% of the student body is economically disadvantaged as determined by the percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The racial composition of the City of Yonkers school population is 25% African American, 52% Hispanic, 6% Asian/Pacific Islander and 18% White/Other. The population of Yonkers International Baccalaureate High School is 66% economically disadvantaged based on eligibility for free or reduced school lunch. Racially the school's is composed of 14% African American, 43% Hispanic, 14% Asian/Pacific Islander and 28% White/Other.
The high needs of many of the children in the Yonkers Public Schools cannot always be met due to a lack of funding and resources, and newly immigrated high school students who do not speak English are at a great disadvantage on many levels. Besides having to learn a new language, they must quickly acclimate to a new culture and fit into an American high school. The students are given English as Second Language classes which helps them in acquiring language skills but this is limited to two periods (1Â½ hours) per day. They are then on their own for the rest of the day, learning math, science, history and any other subjects in English speaking classes. This can create a gap in their understanding due to a lack of English language skills and this is where our resources fit in to fill that gap. Additionally, one-on-one assistance can make the difference in academic skills and will inevitably help them feel part of the larger school community as well as the students feeling that their school is a safe physical space to get acclimated.
Description of Program
The Yonkers Public Schools has a large population of newly immigrated students, and those on the high school level have extra needs as they are required to learn English as well as pass all State Regent exams before graduating. The Yonkers Public Schools have suffered with excessive budget cuts which have nearly eliminated support staff in the schools that would have been able to assist these students during their transition.
Introduction to America creates a comprehensive academic year program that will create a support system around each student so that they feel safe in their new environment and are able to succeed academically.
Students in the program will be given several resources to assist them in feeling safe and achieving in school and in the community.
Children from the Yonkers High School Bilingual Program will be identified by school staff to participate in the program. (20 - 30 students)
We will bring in expert consultants who will conduct workshops on a regular basis in their classes to assist the students with acclimating to society, understanding expectations and feeling safe.
Parents will be invited to join in the workshops to understand how their role is relevant. (Many newly immigrated parents are unwilling to step forward and advocate for their child out of fear and lack of knowledge)
Topics will include (but are not limited to):
Anti-Bullying efforts (bullying and being bullied)
Dangers of Social Networking
How to recognize and avoid gangs
Health and Safety
We will partner with the school's existing Title III services with special attention to academic needs.
This will provide targeted instruction and keep the student on par with grade level
Assure that they take and pass the English Regent Exam
Provide additional academic support in students' academic area(s) of weakness
Each child will be paired with an adult volunteer from the community that speaks their language. This volunteer will commit to meet with the student once a week for the entire school year.
The volunteer will attend the student's ESL (English as a Second Language) class as well as one additional class period. The volunteer acts as a tutor to help their student with class work and homework assignments. They help them with pronunciation, translation, and to interpret cultural differences and nuanced language which is difficult for new English speakers to understand.
This one-to-one attention helps to increase their communications skills and familiarize them with American culture.
They will attend program workshops with the student to act as a translator when necessary.
The volunteer also serves as a mentor by creating a trusting relationship with the student and an enriched environment for learning and academic assistance. Additionally, this offers a safe, comfortable haven, within the students own school, where they can pose questions and share his/her opinion this is something that may not be available in their home or with their peers.
Students in the program will also be paired with specific American high school students that are culturally sensitive and want to help take this student "under their wing". (Buddy system) This buddy would be available to:
Talk to and answer questions about the school culture
Serve as a general liaison between the student and the school community (Such as the school nurse, teachers and administrators)
Assist with navigating the American school system and accessing services in their own school.
Create a connection with the general population of students, thus strengthening the feeling of community, increasing tolerance and reducing bullying.
We will work with School Administration to look into providing
A "Safe Haven/ Drop - in Center" a place where bullying and other stress can be communicated and provide a feeling of belonging to a group. (socially- supportive)
Provide appropriate resources for teachers in cultural sensitivity and diversity
Program goals, expectations and outcomes
Our goal is to run this program in Yonkers International Baccalaureate High School and to serve 20 to 30 students in the Bilingual Program. We will assist them in improving their language skills, attitudes towards school and acclimation to American culture, thus giving them a better chance at success academically and beyond. We currently have students who speak Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Creole, Bengali, Polish and Ukrainian and expect more newcomers who speak other languages as well.
The program's expectations are to provide the newly arrived immigrant student an enriched environment for learning with:
A safe space for students to ask questions
Information and resources not available through the school system
One on one assistance
Personalized help or each student
The programs ultimate outcome would ensure each child a high school diploma.
Volunteer Recruiting and Training Expenses
Program Materials and Supplies
Administrative costs including management, public relations, development, publicity etc.
Program Personnel (Salary and Benefits)
Due to the globalized state of the world there will continue to be a rise in new immigrant student population. This is a vital aspect and there will continue to be a large migrate student body. The student landscape is continually transforming. The issues that these students face need to be addressed as soon as possible to ensure productive educational experience. The Newly Immigrated students have to deal with vast amounts of transformations. These changes need to be addressed by a program that can facilitate a positive assimilation in the culture of the community, school/student life and home life. This program will be designed to then meet the following dynamics: emotional, school and home environment. These students have to be given special attention to ensure specific needs are met. This will provide an underpinning to which these students can develop and have the chance to pursue higher education and future endeavors in a positive manner.
Issues Students Face:
Parents often times both work and are not able to cushion the culture shock the students are experiencing. Therefore these experiences rely heavily on their school experiences. (Fellow students, teachers and staff) Often these parents are illiterate in their own languages.
Culture Shock- These students experience a time period of adjustment. Thus interactions and social exchanges are crucial to the outcome of assimilation.
Social isolation due to language barriers. Introversion and withdrawal from immediate environment. This response is used as a coping mechanism. Unable to communicate with peers will further "otherize" the student. Class participation is lower, teachers do not have the time to individualize educational/classroom experience. Self-esteem is affected as a result of not being able to interact with student life because their cultural reference point is different.
Social disjuncture - often time targets of bullying, the response being further introversion or social acceptance in negative microcosms (gangs). To experience being a part of the culture.
Teachers don't have the time or knowledge that it's not just a language barrier but cultural differences.
At times alienated and ostracized by teachers and school staff, as in inferior students
High levels of frustration/ impede on learning
Anxiety, therefore drop-out rate is higher because crucial needs are not being met
During the 2010-2011 school year, for the months of April through June, a smaller version this program was piloted at Gorton High School, Early College High School and Yonkers High School in Yonkers where students worked with bilingual volunteers in the community. Even with this short time span, based on conversations with the participating students, volunteers and school personnel, many of the students showed an improvement in attitude in their classes as well as improved grades on tests and classroom assignments. By incorporating additional resources and components into the program this coming year, we hope to have a larger impact on students' academic achievement as well as their community involvement.
The Yonkers Public Schools are having tremendous budgetary issues and have therefore not been able to fund this program for the 2011-2012 school years, but have been willing to include us in grant opportunities, as they arise, targeting this population.
All students deserve the right to experience success in school and reach their full
potential. As a large part of the future of our country, all immigrant youth should have the same
opportunities and dream the same dreams as their peers. Since schools serve as a model for
society, they need to foster an environment of respect for all. Using a multicultural approach and
respect for diversity in today's schools builds a stronger America. As we learn to understand each other, we learn to become a team, working for the common goal of respect for all humankind. I hope this study and others like it will bring greater understanding, and contribute to the goals of embracing diversity and appreciating differences.