In recent years a number of high-school-age English Language Learners (ELLs) have begun arriving from Central America and from war-torn areas of Africa. The majority of them are SLIFEs (Students with limited or interrupted formal education). The cost of tuition, residence in rural areas or in refugee camps, or shortened school years all contribute to these students’ lack of educational progress.. SLIFEs begin high school not knowing how to read well (or at all) in any language; not having mastered simple mathematical operations; and not having been exposed to even the basics of science or history.
SLIFEs can be found in many neighborhood high schools in Philadelphia. Teachers are clamoring for a citywide program where these students can be adequately served, since few high school teachers are trained to address their needs.
Franklin Learning Center houses the Newcomer Learning Academy (NLA), and this seems the best context for developing an innovative program for SLIFEs. The NLA already has on staff a number of teachers with experience in working with these students. However, little time and energy have been spent on developing a specialized SLIFE program. Rather, like all students at NLA, the SLIFEs take a full roster of classes, with unsatisfactory results.
The priority for SLIFEs is not to accumulate many credits to graduate “on time.” Rather, these students need more time and intensive scheduling. The school day for these learners should consist of a mix of intensive literacy and math workshops designed to move them through essential skills from Kindergarten through middle school. Teachers could introduce science and social studies concepts along with literacy lessons. The goals in mathematics would be for students to master mathematical operations and “numeracy” in preparation for Algebra I.
Within the first year, students could be expected to “make up” multiple years of material, perhaps even moving through one year of content each month or two. In the first year of this program, students would NOT earn many academic credits—perhaps only one English and one math credit and some elective credits at most—but they will have built a firm foundation for future academic success.
In addition to alternative rosters and experienced teachers, appropriate materials and opportunities for co-planning would be key to a SLIFE program’s success.
The needs of SLIFEs MUST be taken into consideration in planning any newcomer program. Unless time and energy are invested in building this foundation, these students may graduate, but they will NOT be ready for career or college, or, for that matter, even survival in the U.S.
It is inconceivable that the SDP would demonstrate so little interest in a group of students who could, with this boost, achieve great things.