Claughton Middle School Seventh-Grader Alexandra Moreira, from left, stands with the school’s namesake, Stelle Claughton Lacefield, following the Spring ISD Newcomer Program 2017-18 graduation ceremony.
HOUSTON – June 7, 2018 – Standing tall and proud, speaking loud and clear, Wells Middle School sixth-grader Carlos Escalon Martinez got up in front of his classmates to read a reflection that he wrote himself about the year he had just spent as part of the Spring ISD Newcomer Program. The most impressive part of his speech? Martinez wrote and delivered his remarks entirely in English, a language that he only recently started learning.
“I’ve passed many challenges trying to learn English,” Martinez said to the roomful of students, parents and faculty members. “My teachers were very good with me, and I have very good friends. In my experience, it was a good year at Wells Middle School.”
The Spring ISD Newcomer Program – now completing its pilot year – was designed especially for students like Martinez, who are new or recent arrivals to the U.S. and need an extra boost bringing their English skills up to speed. It emphasizes language acquisition, placing participating students in a structured classroom environment focused both on subject-area content and on the students’ developing ability to read, write, listen to and speak English.
Wells Middle School and Claughton Middle School were specifically chosen for the pilot program because of their relatively high concentration of newcomer families. In all, 74 students from the two schools graduated from the 2017-18 newcomer program during ceremonies held at each campus on Friday, May 25. According to Angela Patterson, Spring ISD’s multilingual department secondary teacher facilitator, the aim was to leverage the pilot year to produce the greatest possible impact.
“They’re going to have to pass STAAR in English, but first they have to develop the language, and so the newcomer program provides a safe environment for them to learn the language,” Patterson said. “We want to make sure that they can transfer the knowledge from their first language to their second language.”
For Wells Middle School ELL Coordinator Cynthia Leon, addressing the needs around language acquisition not only increases students’ English skills and test scores, it also helps support a strong, diverse community in Spring ISD.
“We’ve seen an increase in our attendance rates for our immigrant students, and we’ve also seen a decrease in our failure rates,” Leon said. “We really have created a family within the school for these kids that don’t speak any English and don’t even know how to ask you where the bathroom is. If we can reach those kids when they first get here and really give them the foundation in English, then they are going to grow so much faster and, across the district, our scores will go up.”
Claughton Middle School ELL Coordinator Alex Sanchez, meanwhile, sees parallels between the newcomer students’ journeys and his own time in school growing up.
“I was an ESL student. I was a bilingual student, so I’ve seen the needs,” Sanchez said. “We’ve had our challenges this year, but seeing the development of the newcomer program to meet the needs of our students has been amazing.”
Timothy Glass, a member of the science faculty at Claughton, was among the teachers who signed on to join the pilot program and work intensively with its students in the classroom.
“I like the program. It works,” Glass said. “It can be hard to adapt the curriculum every day to meet the needs of these students, but the relationships built through the program have helped the kids become more confident.”
At Claughton, the pilot program was offered to students in conjunction with Claughton’s New Arrivals Center, which also provides support to parents and family members, many of whom, Sanchez said, may be learning English at the same time as their children. And according to the multilingual department’s elementary teacher facilitator, Ana Carlton, that connection between family members is integral to the program’s overall culture and success.
“We want to nurture their first language and encourage them to grow in their second language,” Carlton said. “And the parents are impacted as well. When the kids are getting that support at school, they can support their parents. I think these kinds of programs are making a big impact, not just with the students, but with the community.”
Also on hand to congratulate students was Claughton’s campus namesake, Stelle Claughton Lacefield, who during the ceremony spoke to students about her own background as an English teacher and campus administrator, her lifelong love of language, and the crucial importance of good communication skills, both in school and in life.
“The excitement that they show, the pleasure that they show, it’s as if the world is maybe really opening up in some different ways for them,” Lacefield said after the campus ceremony had concluded. “You can just see it in their faces, and that’s what excites me, of course. It’s an opening up of new worlds to them.”
Hugging his daughter Brenda Haskett after the newcomer graduation ceremony at Wells, proud father Toney Haskett said that his daughter, who grew up speaking her mother’s native Hungarian, had come a long way in her study of English since arriving in the U.S. and at Spring ISD.
“The newcomer program has helped her tremendously,” Toney Haskett said. “It has improved her ability to understand the meaning of words and sentences. In my opinion, the program is great. Now, when she reads, she can understand.”
While the program’s long-term future in Spring ISD is still in development, current plans include continuing to grow the program at Wells and Claughton while considering the addition of a New Arrivals Center to serve high school students and their families. At the end of the day, according to Patterson, better communication and understanding is at the heart of what the newcomer program is all about, and it’s those elements – together with the improved student outcomes – that she hopes to strengthen and grow as the program expands and impacts more Spring ISD students and families in the future.
“That’s what we’re striving to do with this program,” Patterson said, “to give them a background so they can be successful.”