KCPS program aims to help students new to US get best possible education

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- School can be tough for a lot of children, but students new to the United States can face added challenges in the classroom. That's where the New Americans Program in Kansas City Public Schools comes in.

The program aims to help migrants, immigrants and refugees get the best possible educations.

Many students students in the New Americans program are refugees from war-torn countries. They didn't have access to formal education, or their educations were interrupted.

"Some of the students are from refugee camps and refugees school classes look very different from what we know in the United States," Allyson Hile, the Director of Language Services and Cultural Equity for Kansas City Public Schools.

She says the specialized programming students learn here and at four other schools with the New Americans program will give them the skills to be in a traditional classroom.

"Some students will move out after a semester, not as many, "Hile said. "Usually it's about a year."

Kansas City Public Schools have the largest English as a second language program in Missouri. There are about 4,000 ESL students in the district, and almost half came to America as refugees.

Most of the students in the class FOX4 visited at Whittier Elementary are originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and speak Swahili. There are about 20 languages spoken at Whittier Elementary, which can be a challenge students and teachers have to overcome.

"Research shows a student that comes here with some native language literacy and experience in school, it takes about five to seven years to become proficient in English," Hile said. "If you come not having had access to education or not being literate in your home language, it can take 7 to 10 years to become proficient in English."

But the New Americans program, where teachers learn strategies and concepts to help students and give them personalized attention, gives them a better shot. The program has classes at Whittier, Garfield and Gladstone Elementary. North East Middle School and East High School also have students in the program.

"It is lot of work on developing language through content," Hile said. "So teachers will focus on social students concepts like community, like Missouri. But also focus on the language the students need in that content. Social studies is sometimes a struggle, there are concepts like the American Revolution and the Civil War."

Hile says a lot of teachers in the district are ESL-certified, and bring special strategies to the New Americans program.
"We work with them on slowing your speech, bringing in items to show students," Hile said. "So if you're talking about photosynthesis, a great thing to do is to have a plant."

According to Hile, students in the New Americans program are exempt from taking the state tests for English Language Arts. They are not given the same exemption for math an science.

"We have curriculum that we're expected to follow and the state has expectations of performance of schools, Hile said. "It sometimes is a bit of a mismatch with what students come to school with."

A month ago, there were 13 students in Ms. Jenson's New Americans class. Today, there are 20 in the crash course on English, and American culture. They even talk about things like how to punch your number in at the lunch line.

"They will do units on, here is what we celebrate in the United States, what do you celebrate in your country? Hile said.

Hile says the program is all about giving all students the same opportunities to succeed as students born in the US.

"We embrace the diversity that we have and we're really lucky to have it," Hile said.

When students finish the New Americans program and transition into traditional classes, they still get support from ESL co-teachers.

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