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The ESOL Journey

Jessica Mow, ESOL specialist at Curtis Middle School, discusses the ESOL and newcomer program (also available in the full documentary film):


The newcomer program at Curtis Middle School is a large program. We have about 70 newcomers and since the program has grown so much, we've had to break it down into a beginner newcomer group, the more advanced newcomer group, and then once they get out of the advanced newcomer class, we have ESOL 2 and ESOL 3. And they have an ESOL teacher for their language arts class and then they're out for math science and social studies with the mainstream kiddos. So assessment done for an ESOL student – their first stop is at the MES – the Multilingual Education Center. They give all the testing right down there and then the scores are sent to us. And based on their scores I’ll know where to place them at between our four levels, or if they're just ready for mainstream classes.

Right now we're learning parts of the body and being able to explain any aches or pains that you have so if you need to go to the nurse or if you need to tell an adult what's wrong you can do that and so you have to know what part of your body is hurting. So we had the game in the back – each kid kind of had their own little castle that they drew, and the teacher would hold up a card and say, what part of your body do you hear with? And the kids had to answer and if they answered correctly, they would get to attack one of the other students’ castles. And so, once they had so many attacks their castle would crumble and you would try and attack other castles.

I also had a center that was computer-oriented and I had picked out five or six different websites that the kids could go to to practice. There was a listening section on there, there was review and labeling parts of the body, and then at my center we also had speaking practice. So they had to write a play about some problem that they had had – a backache, a stomachache, an earache – and they had to write a script for it and then they had to share it with their group.

For someone starting a newcomer program, a couple things that I would have them really look at are the levels of your kids. That's one of the big things with ESOL as well, as you have this massive gamut of where kids are in your classroom. And being able to like, have a group of really beginners and have that curriculum that focuses on beginning, and then I have a group of more advanced newcomers that I can go a little deeper with. That would really point your curriculum in the direction you want to go. There's lots of times where I'm like, okay, we’ve got to get through this and then something comes up and I'm like, well you know, I'm going to have to stop for a minute with what my plan is for the day and really go into whatever life lesson that really needs to go on, so it just depends. Some days there is more time has spent on a life lesson and some days it's on the lesson plan, and you just kind of have to go with the flow with what the day brings you.

One of the things that has really been a challenge working with newcomers and refugee students is the curriculum that that we have, and that we’re constantly creating to really meet the needs of the students. When we got refugee students the curriculum that we have just wasn't cutting it. There’s so much missing from these kids’ education that we had to search and find and dig for, and you know, try and create ourselves to really meet their needs and to get them, you know, to skip up and meet all of – you know, go from a second grade level up to a sixth grade level – so that's been the most difficult thing. Really finding what they need and getting it to them and making sure it works for them.

Journey to Refuge ebook cover

Download the eBook at New Prairie Press

Published April 2019

Recommended Citation: Harlow, Trina D., "Journey to Refuge: Understanding Refugees, Exploring Trauma, and Best Practices for Newcomers and Schools" (2019). NPP eBooks. 26. https://newprairiepress.org/ebooks/26

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

See the full Refuge in the Heartland documentary

For more information about the eBook or film, please contact Dr. Trina Harlow, Book Editor and Film Co-Director, at drtrinaharlow@gmail.com.