BAP092 The School I Deserve with Author Jo Napolitano

Author and award-winning journalist, Jo Napolitano has contributed a very important new book to our field, “The School I Deserve, Six Young Refugees and Their Fight For Equality in America.”

Jo’s book is a true account of a recent court battle. The children she writes about were not allowed to enroll in their schools because of their advanced age, limited English, or other factors that would make it challenging to earn a high school diploma.You can listen to this episode in your favorite podcast app or right here:

Listen to “BAP092 The School I Deserve ft Jo Napolitano” on Spreaker.

Jo’s own life is one of beating the odds.  She talks about how she was born in poverty and abandoned as an infant in Colombia.  She is now a Northwestern graduate, an award-winning journalist, and an author.   Jo knows feels that education was the key to all of her success.

Jo hopes that the book helps alert people to what could be happening in their own communities.  She hopes we have a mindset that education is an incredible opportunity to propel the lives of these students.  Instead of seeing refugees or older immigrant students as a burden, we can help education be a win for new arrival students.  I agree 100% with Jo and I am seeing the direct implications for SLIFE (student with limited or interrupted education) and the teachers that serve them.

I highly recommend this book to all educators.  Now, more than ever, we need to be reminded of the journeys some must endure for an opportunity to learn with us.  We also need this book to help us see what newcomers are capable of.  We know every child brings gifts and their grit, perseverance, and appreciation for education is only some of their assets.

We Can’t Deny Anyone Their Rights to Education

I appreciated that Jo explained that the school district is very supportive of refugees.  They have programs to support refugee families and they work to support their success in the community.  Their stance, Jo explains, was that the probability of graduation for these students was low and so the district felt that enrolling them in the high school was not the best option for the students.

However, a free and fair public education is the right of these refugees and any young person living in the United States.  Even if they are only 1 year away from aging-out, or being too old to attend.   Jo talks about the fact that a child’s education is finite.  To deny them that education is completely unacceptable under any circumstances.

Read Some of this Book & Hear More from Jo

You’ll love the few paragraphs Jo reads for us during this live show.  We are also fortunate that published an excerpt of the book. You can click here to visit their website to read it.  You’ll be so inspired!

My conversation with Jo left me wanting to hear more from her.  Luckily we can!  Here is a great hour-long interview by our friend Pam Broussard (thank you, Pam!):

I agree with Jo.  Just because a person comes to our country as an older youth, we can’t leave their lives to chance.  We have the ability to stack the deck in their favor.

UPDATE!  Here is one more excerpt recently released by LitHub


This book is beautifully written.  It is heartbreaking and inspiring all at once.  It is getting rave reviews like this one:

“Napolitano’s compelling story of teenage refugees denied the same high school education as their Pennsylvania peers is both heartbreaking and infuriating. It’s an intimate story, and yet Napolitano’s exhaustive research also underscores the consequences of inequality. This book represents a historical moment as important as Brown v. Board of Education, and every democracy-loving American needs to read it.”

—Amy Ellis Nutt, author of Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family

You can read more reviews, contact Jo Napolitano and learn more ways that she can support your work on Jo’s website.

How I’m Using “The School I Deserve”

If you listen to the show you can hear the enthusiasm in my voice.  I was excited to talk to Jo because the book reminds me of so many points that keep me advocating for these students.  But since this interview, I have been reflecting and I am even more excited about how I can use the text.

I was given an advanced copy to interview Jo.  However, I have now purchased multiple copies of the book!

This summer I am volunteering to teach a class for older emergent English Learners.  I will be using this text with those students and I have no doubt that it will help propel their literacy.  I’ll also pair it with the audio version for a book club I am starting with some refugees in my area.  I am showing them the power of tracking print when things are read aloud to them.  I’m so grateful that I could buy the audiobook and the hard copy!

I’ll be doing some co-creating of text with the summer school class as well.

I have NO DOUBT that this text will be a powerful resource for these learners.  Stephen Krashen tells us that free voluntary reading of compelling text is the answer for language acquisition and we know that reading more is KEY to boosting literacy.

Thank Yous

Big, huge thanks to Stephen Hurley and for providing the platform for these live interviews.  I hope you check out to catch education radio at any time of the day.

Thanks to Jo Napolitano for her incredible work and for joining me on this show.

And thank YOU, as always.  I appreciate you for listening and/or reading.  You are really helping my learning.

Take good care.


BAP091 Engaging Language Learners with Writing – Natalia Heckman

Natalia Heckman  is back offering practical strategies to support writing with ELs.  In this show we also get a special “behind-the-scenes” look at how she structures one of her very popular workshops for teachers.  This show originally aired LIVE on  Check out that network for education radio 24 hours a day!

You can listen to this show in your favorite podcast app or right here:

Listen to “BAP091 Engaging ELs with Writing ft Natalia Heckman” on Spreaker.

Natalia has been busy since she was my guest last month.  That last show is right here and definitely worth listening to if you want to hear more about skills vs. knowledge and sentence-level writing.  I learned so much from that conversation.

Since then, Natalia has written another very popular blog post on how to engage our English Learners with writing.

She offers workshops around this topic and so we were lucky to have her come on the show to give us tangible tips we can use right now.  You may have missed her open workshop but be sure to follow Natalia and check Upcoming Events through Seidlitz Education to see what Natalia is offering in the near future.

Of course, you may decide to bring Natalia to your district and you’d be among the many districts that have Natalia working with their teachers.  Reach out to her at to do that.  She is a wonderful presenter!

During our show, Natalia shared that when looking to engage ELs in writing, she recommends a focus on three principles:





Natalia explained that there is power in making our content exciting and relevant to our students.  She explains that looking for relevance is not just looking for things that are relevant to the student’s background or culture.  She suggests, rather, that we look for things that are relevant to ALL of our learners.  We can use sporting events or things happening in the community or something they are all looking forward to in the future. She used the term “start with a spark” and cited Dr. Lora Beth Escalante’s book, Motivating ELLs.  

We just finished a round of #ELLchat_BkClub where we studied that book.  Search the hashtags #Ellchat_BkClub and #MotivatingELLs together on Twitter to see lots of insight from folks reviewing Dr. Escalante’s work.

It was fun to hear about how Natalia lifts mentor sentences from the text but actually changes those to meet the language levels of her students and to create more relevant sentences.


How important is that feeling of competence as we look to keeping our students engaged?  Research shows that it is VERY important and Natalia suggests that we build competence through scaffolding.  When we scaffold for ELs, it helps them to see that the assignment are feasible.

Natalia’s blog posts are a FANTASTIC place to see what scaffolding can look like. Be sure to check them out.  She also mentions work by Don and Jenny Kilgallon as she explains how she would support students to construct and deconstruct sentences.


I agree with Natalia that students need to have fun while working on a task!  We talked about how students enjoy working collaboratively and Natalia shred that she has educators work collaboratively in her trainings so that the teachers can experience how supportive this is for our English Learners.

Tangible Take-Away

I loved the strategy that Natalia shared toward the end of the show.  She credited the book The WRITING Revolution, by Judith C. Hochman & Natalie Wexler.

Be sure to listen so you get her explanation of the “Because,…but,…so,…” technique.

I’m not doing it justice, but basically, you:

  1. Give students a complete sentence. such as   “Teenagers should not be allowed to get married.” This sentence, by the way, is one she uses for a Romeo and Juliet unit and it drives many opinions.  It is relevant to the life of a high school student!
  2. Ask students to expand on the sentence, add to it,  with common conjunctions such as  Because, But & So.
    • Teenagers should not be allowed to get married because…
    • Teenagers should not be allowed to get married but…
    • Teenagers should not be allowed to get married so…

You’ll hear Natalia explain that this can be set up in stations and students could move around with a partner constructing these sentences.

Now she has her students constructing complex sentences using this framework.  She can point out the structure of the sentences and this format can be used again later in the year.

At the end of our conversation, Stephen Hurley asked us if it would be appropriate for English learners to write in their native language.  Natalia and I both responded with a strong YES for the pre-writing and rough draft stage of a piece of writing.  We want to draw on our students’ entire linguistic repertoire to help them express their thoughts.  But Natalia brought up a good point that we may need to work in the target language as we help them develop skills with English syntax.

Right now, Natalia has writing and language acquisition workshops scheduled for the fall.  But be sure to check the Upcoming Events page to see what else she adds this summer.

And don’t forget that our webinar page has some free webinars from Natalia like this one:

I hope you enjoyed this time learning from Natalia.  I appreciate all that she shares and I appreciate YOU for stopping by this post.

Please reach out and let me know your thoughts about writing with ELs.  We are all so much better when we share.

Take good care!


BAP090 Dr. Ilene Winokur on Creating a Sense of Belonging – LIVE Show

What a treat to record a live show with Dr. Ilene Winokur!

I have followed Ilene for years and so I was thrilled to have her share about how we can be more culturally responsive for our diverse students.  Dr. Winokur shares the importance of belonging and how we can support students to develop their sense of belonging. You can listen to this show right here:
Listen to “BAP 090 Dr. Ilene Winokur on Creating a Sense of Belonging” on Spreaker.

In this show, Ilene shares that how critical it is to help students feel that they belong.  Creating a welcoming, safe space is the most important thing to consider when we support culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

I encourage you to explore Dr. Winokur’s website here.

Dr. Winokur has lived in Kuwait for 35 years and recently retired as the Director of the Foundation Program Unit (Math and English) at Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST).

Her experience includes teaching and administration in PreK-5 and Pre-College. Her professional interests are leadership in practice, refugee education, and continuing professional development (CPD).

I get so much learning from following Dr. Winokur’s blog:

In this show, Ilene talks about how she still spends significant time working with refugees.  Her interest in refugee education stems from her own experience with being a refugee during the 1990 Gulf War and also her participation on the leadership team of the ISTE Global Collaboration Network.

A few of the many take-aways for me include:

  • Embrace students!  Embrace them, their families, and their cultures.
  • Important to feel trust and a safe environment.
  • Create relationships by listening to their stories and sharing our stories.   Ilene recommends that we focus first on relationships with the students and with their families.

Ilene mentions that she recorded a podcast episode with Tan Huynh – she recounts a great anecdote about a student using her native language in Tan’s class.  I recommend that show!

Ilene has some words about things to keep in mind as educators in the United States begin to take more refugees.

  • Resilience is not a given.  However, many refugees appreciate education and where it can take them in the future.
  • She tells us that she has come to see refugees as an amazing group of talented people!  We just need to discover their superpowers.  This takes time but we can develop an asset point of view if we look for the assets.
  • Point out the assets to your refugees and other marginalized students.

At that point in the show, I reflect on how this ALL falls into that message of belonging.  Dr. Winokur helped me reflect that I do need to REMIND myself to focus on what our students CAN do.  I want to do this, but like many, we need constant reminders when we work with students who are just gaining a language or just gaining literacy.

What is easy to do when we are in the context of a classroom:

Content and Language Objectives are powerful!  She recommends finding authentic opportunities to use language.  And makings sure, from a cultural perspective, that we are connecting with students.  Culture, not just language, can create a disconnect.

Ilene offers some great words about how we question!  She mentions wait time and tiering the questions in a way that helps them be comfortable and engaged.  Her ideas are specific and she explains them in a way that makes so much sense!

The links above offer many ways to learn more from Ilene.  I highly recommend that you check out all of her podcasts.  In fact, if you’d like to hear more from the two of us together, I was honored to be a guest on her show and you can listen to that right here:

Very special thanks to Dr. Winokur for taking the time to come on this live show.  We have live #BoostingAchievement shows every Monday and Friday morning at 7am ET so tune in to to catch those or to listen to the stream any time.  It’s a great place to learn and be inspired by educators like Ilene.

Please reach out and let me know your thoughts on belonging.  We’d love to hear them.

Thanks so much for listening!


PS:  If you are looking for a HOME RUN professional learning experience for your staff, please connect with me at  I’d love to personalize something for you to support your ELs or SLIFE.  You, your teachers and your students deserve it!