Free school for non-English speakers? |

Free school for non-English speakers?

Nicole Frey

EAGLE ” The teenagers and young adults who attend the New America Schools in the Denver area are the students that have fallen through the cracks of public education, the school’s adminsitrators say.

They don’t speak English. Most of them have missed more than a semester of school, or they’ve been involved in drugs, gangs, had parents in jail or had children while they were still children themselves. It may seem like a big-city problem, but it’s here to, said Dominic DiFelice, the school’s senior educational consultant.

“Eagle County has a high degree of immigrants that aren’t being served in the mainstream schools that we believe we can help with,” DiFelice said. “The need to start a school like this is here.”

The New America School, a public charter high school focused on educating new immigrants, wants to expand from the Front Range to the High County. After turning in an application to start a new charter school, a team of three from New America appeared before the school board to introduce the concept.

Targeting 16- to 21-year-olds with little or no English, the New America School’s primary focus is teaching the language, but the school also offers young people a change to get a diploma, DiFelice said.

“Some have no hope of earning a diploma,” he said. “They come just to learn English.”

Other students are able to transfer credits from their native countries and then continue working to get the requisite 27 credits to graduate in Eagle County.

New America graduates will have comparable knowledge to regular county public high school grads, he said.

“This will not be ‘Easy High,'” DiFelice said. “We will not graduate students who don’t qualify.”

The New America School ” with campuses in Denver, Northglenn and Lakewood on the Front Range ” claims mostly “at-risk” kids among its student body.

“Their stories would break your heart, every single one of them,” DiFelice said.

To learn how to tell those stories in English, students with no English skills start off in the school’s “Welcome Center: where they get a minimum of four hours of English immersion every school day.

From there, they move into a sheltered program where English immersion continues and regular classes are added.

Students do projects that combine reading, writing, science and math, instead of having individual classes for each subject. And they can also take electives like art, dance, drama and journalism.

Day and night classes allow students to work while going to school or accelerate their education taking both day and night classes. The New America School operates on a four- or five-day week, though DiFelice said they’d likely implement a four-day week here to allow students more time to work other jobs.

“Then maybe you can become a foreman instead of a construction worker because you have the language skills,” DiFelice said.

The school is eyeing Edwards for its main campuses and would like to open satellite campuses in Dillon, Eagle, Leadville or Gypsum, DiFelice said. The satellites would only teach English.

Some board members worried starting another charter school would take students away from existing high schools, but DiFelice said the New America School targets people who aren’t currently enrolled in school, finding potential students who aren’t even registered with the school district.

“There are kids that have just fallen through the cracks,” DiFelice said.

Some district staff and school board members were shocked at the thought that there could be children in Eagle County they don’t know about.

“If it’s finding kids that aren’t currently in school, then I think it’s a good idea,” Battle Mountain High School Principal Brian Hester said.

However, the charter school isn’t allowed to refuse service to anyone, so if an English-speaker wanted to attend New America, he would have to be allowed to do so, DiFelice said.

DiFelice said transportation could be a problem as the county has relatively little public transportation. He said the school could consider an ECO pass subsidy or work with the county or school district to get vehicles.

“You could hire some of (the students) as bus drivers,” Superintendent John Brendza said.

The school already offers child-care reimbursement of up to $200 per month for students.

Because so many potential New America students live below the radar, New America staff will visit businesses, churches and community groups to ferret out students, said Jana Miller, a spokeswoman and teacher.

“There’s a need here,” DiFelice said. “We don’t know how many school-aged children are out there, but we know there’s a lot of them.”

Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or

Vail, Colorado

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