BAP095 The JCPS Newcomer Academy ft. Gwen Snow and Dr. Irina McGrath

Great things are happening for Newcomers in Kentucky!  What is working for recent arrivals at the Newcomer Academy in Jefferson Co Public Schools?   Principal Gwen Snow and Assistant Principal, Dr. Irina McGrath share some very important actions they are taking to best educate their newcomer and SLIFE learners in their high school.

You can download the episode in your favorite podcast app or listen right here:

Listen to “BAP095 Newcomer Academy Success ft. Snow and McGrath” on Spreaker.

A Source of Pride

I was blown away when Gwen shared that the school is going on its 15th year!

It has become a source of pride and identity for their immigrant community.  This is in alignment with the leadership training Gwen has in terms of the important role a high school can play in the community.  Many of the students are coming back as leaders in the community and making sure that people know that the Newcomer Academy was their school.  How powerful and inspiring!

Some of the big ideas include:

  • Supporting Basic Needs & finding out what is available in the community.

Gwen and Irina shared some of the most foundational things they do including helping families with basic needs.  It starts with knowing what is in your community.  We brought up 211, the United Way Help Line for folks who may not know what services are available in their area.

211 can speak to your students and families in many different languages.  Take Gwen’s advice and call it yourself to see what the experience is like and to be able to better help your families use it.  I found it to be very easy to use and in my high school class, we called it on speakerphone to illustrate how to call the service.

The United Way helpline is available across the US and in many parts of Canada.

The website is also great:

  • Good communication with their parents. 

They hold in-person and virtual Town Hall Meetings regularly.  I was inspired to hear about how important their parents are to the school.  They are available to help them and their students with much more than academics.

  • Social-Emotional Support 

This is a school for recent arrivals and so it stands to reason that many have lived through difficult circumstances.  Teachers have SEL training and the school has SEL Leads so there is a focus on how to help the students with their social and emotional needs.

  • Specific Language & Content Support

Ms. Snow explained that their school provides intense English support.  The teachers are trained to provide instruction in English with a focus on strategies that support language acquisition and content learning for multilingual learners.

Dr. McGrath & Michelle Shory (also in JCPS) have a fantastic supportive website we all need to be following: ELL2.0

I learn so much from it:

Dr. McGrath added that they have structured their scheduling so students receive content support and additional language support. A specific advocacy period is among the innovative classes taken by newcomer students. She pointed out that there is a lot of differentiation happening as all of the newcomers come with unique backgrounds and assets.

Irina was excited to tell us about how she is working with the content teachers to plan for the next school year.  They will be doing action research on specific content strategies for Newcomers.   She explained that they will select a number of techniques, try them out, and then document and share what works for newcomers at different levels.  This will be great information for so many other teachers as well.

  • Standards-Based Grading

Gwen emphasized that it is important for us to allow students multiple ways to show mastery. Grading on the actual standards allows educators to focus on what a student has mastered.  They shared that it also allows them to build on the students’ experiences.

  • Resources

Gwen advises that we take a good look at our resources.  ALL resources… such as  Human Resources for example.  How are they spread across the district and how can they best be utilized?

  • Teach Them How to Be a Student in the United States. 

Gwen reminded us that we are not just teaching them content or language.  We are teaching them how to do school in the US. Irina offered that she remembered being a newcomer and how challenging it is to have to learn everything from how to operate a microwave to how tubes worked in the drive-through at the bank.

  • Welcoming Environment

In many ways, they are both telling us how important it is that we support the whole student. There was a strong message of creating a welcoming environment.  We can all create that.  We have a lot of research around being culturally responsive and lowering the affective filter for students.  It is no wonder their efforts are working so well in JCPS.

I was so inspired by what they tell us is working.  It is wonderful that they have a specific school to implement these ideas and we can learn from those practices even if we don’t have a newcomer center.  The Newcomer Academy is giving students a great start in their education journey.

Thanks again to Gwen Snow & Dr. Irina McGrath!

And thank YOU for listening!


PS: Keep your eyes peeled for the #MLSummit!  (This is formerly #VirtuEL) Search the hashtag and know that I’ll send out info soon on how you can participate in the July free conference.