English is new school’s mission | VailDaily.com

English is new school’s mission

Connie Steiert
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Local statistics show that immigrant students who lack English skills drop out of high school six times more often than do their English-speaking.

The problem is often complex, involving social differences and economics. A New America charter school will open this fall in Eagle County and will target the valley’s large Hispanic student population, particularly teens between the ages of 15 and 21 who are still struggling with language and school work.

“There is a high need for English-language acquisition in that area,” said Dominick DiFelice, chief academic officer for the New America school board. These students, he adds, are “simply not attending school up in the Eagle County area.”

The local school board approved the publicly-funded school because it will focus on teaching English to students between the ages of 16 and 21, and will try to help them get jobs, said Mike Gass, the Eagle County school district’s director of secondary education.

“It’s really a young-adult language-immersion program,” Gass said.

The New America School’s three Denver locations are attended primarily by students in ninth through twelfth grades.

“Seventy-two percent of our (student) population comes from Mexico,” DiFelice said.

In all, 95 percent come from Latin American countries, and four percent from other countries. Equally noteworthy, 85 percent of these students are considered unlikely to ever graduate from high school, DiFelice said.

Due to parents’ work, these students may move or travel frequently, and a number of them become parents themselves while still high school age, he said.

“They just haven’t been to school,” DiFelice said. “We literally take them off the street and provide them with an education.”

New America schools operate on a flexible, work-friendly schedule. School is held four days a week and classes are held boy day and night. The school also reimburses students for child care.

In Eagle County, the dropout rate for Hispanic students is 6.5 percent versus just 1.2 percent for Caucasians. This number may actually be low because some school-age students move to the valley after they dropped out of schools elsewhere, Gass said.

Red Canyon High School, the county’s school for students having trouble with school work, has a flexible class schedule to accommodate students who work, but it does not have an English-immersion program.

“We’re excited,” says Gass. “This adds an educational opportunity in the valley, particularly for kids that wouldn’t traditionally be (experiencing) post-education-type options.”

New America students are not singled out for their inability to speak English amid a largely English-speaking student body. “Kids find it (New America) a much more nurturing environment,” DiFelice said.

The New America is conducting a nationwide search for a principal for its Eagle County campus and teachers have shown “incredible interest,” he said.

“Obviously, they are interested in the mission, interested in the concern,” DiFelice said.

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