I spent a day this week in my sister Laura’s classroom at The Merrill Middle School in Denver (Denver Public Schools). Her classroom and school are similar to most middle schools in many ways and distinctly different in others. Laura is an English Language Acquisition (ELA) teacher in a federally funded Newcomer Program. The city of Denver is active in offering political asylum to many families in areas of conflict throughout the world. Essentially, if you read about or watch where there are adult conflicts in the world, my sister has children from these areas in her classroom.
Laura’s school, Merrill Middle, is the ELA school (other than Spanish) in Denver. There is a separate school in Denver that primarily focuses on Spanish only because of numbers. Merril Middle has about 550 students speaking over 40 languages. It is an amazing place.
I tried to capture some of this experience on video while participating in a morning meeting with Laura’s students. This year students largely represent three different ethnic groups in Myanmar/Burma, as well as Somalia, Iraq, and Rwanda. In Laura’s words, In Denver, Merrill’s Newcomer Center is the best placement for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade immigrants who had their educations interrupted by conflicts. They come to Newcomer to learn English, take an accelerated course in elementary academic skills, adjust to American cultural norms and school/societal expectations, learn how to live in a city for the first time (in some cases), and make friends.
From an email I received from Laura:
Refugee status is not a requirement for the Newcomer program, though all of our current students are refugees. Many Merrill ELA students are refugees (meaning their families have been granted asylum in the U.S.), but they do not need Newcomer services because they have had continuous schooling in their home countries. For example, our newly-arriving Nepalese students are, in general, a well-educated group whose families have fled the increasingly violent conflicts between the Nepali government and Maoist rebels. We welcome these new students at Merrill, although we are sorry that it is conflict and chaos that lead them to our classrooms.