Newcomers Academy is a program of Boston International High School for up to 250 newly-arrived immigrants of high school age who do not speak English, especially those with gaps in their schooling. I met students from Vietnam, Ruanda, Iran, Cape Verde, Haiti and the Dominican Republic during my visit.

Eric Johnson, a old friend and current director of the program, explained that students may attend Newcomers Academy for one semester or up to two calendar years, depending on the academic need. Additional support is available on Saturdays, during the summer, and even after they’ve left the program for a regular high school.

Classes are spread out on every floor of the building and I was grateful for the guidance of Edson Soares da Rosa, a youth worker who knew every student by name and had an “app” which facilitated conversation in a number of different languages!

I visited right after MEPA testing and our first stop was in a classroom where everyone was “circled up” to debrief the testing experience, sharing challenges and learning from one another as well as from their teacher. I later noticed a hallway display entitled, “Moving to the Next Level” that shared school-wide data  and explained the different levels of English Language Development.

In every classroom I saw evidence of the focus on language learning strategies; word walls were ubiquitous, even in science and math classrooms. I enjoyed watching a science class where students used hand motions to illustrate and “feel” the meaning of conduction, convection & radiation as they learned about forms of heat transfer. In one language class, students were preparing to play a homonym game to practice new vocabulary. In others, students were using their limited English to share their personal stories with one another and role-playing an encounter while taking public transportation around Boston.

Much of what works for English Language Learners is simply good practice! Since so many of our students struggle with academic English, even if they’re not newcomers, I can only hope that these and other strategies are being implemented more widely throughout the system.

I know there is learning going on in every school: please invite me to visit yours!

amika-96x27Amika Kemmler-Ernst, Ed.D.


Amika Kemmler-Ernst is a recently retired BPS New Teacher Developer with extensive experience as a classroom teacher, curriculum developer, and graphic artist. Her “We’re Learning Here” series features images of everyday learning in our public schools, along with the words of the students pictured. Please invite her to visit your school this year!