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.


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