How the Community Is Coming Together to Support Our English Language-Learners

Sep 19, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by Daniel Sass

This is the first part of a two-part series about International High School at Langley Park, a school that is fostering community partnerships to help serve their English-language learners.
  Our partners at Springpoint use a set of 10 Integrated School Design Principles in their work to support the design, launch and iteration of innovative new high schools. These 10 principles are essential for schools working to prepare students for college and career opportunities. While I understand that each principle is inherently valuable in its own right, I frequently find myself gravitating towards my school’s ability to effectively incorporate one principle in particular—remaining “porous and connected.” In this back-to-school season, I find myself thinking more and more about what a “porous and connected” school looks like. For me, [pullquote position="left"]it’s a school with robust community partnerships[/pullquote] that create essential structures and supports for students.

We're All In This Together

At Maryland's International High School at Langley Park (IHSLP), where I serve as the assistant principal, our students are 100 percent English-language learners (ELL). Some schools aren’t set up to support English-language learners; fewer than half of Maryland’s ELL students were graduating high school in four years. Many of these students are also newly arrived immigrants, and as such, they face distinct challenges within and outside of the walls of our school. That’s why we have built an ever-growing stable of community partners both local and national (and even international!)—all instrumental to our growth and development as a community school, providing strong wraparound services to our building, students and families. Whenever I explain this connectedness to others—whether in small conversations with other educators or when facilitating professional development (PD) conferences around our school model—I show them the following video. At its core, what you see in this video is community partnerships. It is the wraparound model. We work hard for the community, and we do what we do together. We showed this video to all of our students and teachers at the beginning of the year to underscore the value of teamwork, dedication and collaboration in a community.

Building a Foundation

No partners embody this more than Internationals Network for Public Schools (INPS) and CASA de Maryland, which worked together with the Prince George’s County Public School System to help open IHSLP last August. INPS has been with us step by step as [pullquote]we have worked together in creating the mission, vision, values and instructional frameworks for the school.[/pullquote] They directly supported us with the launch (and growth) of the school, student support structures, curriculum support and development, mastery support and development and instructional coaching and development. Ms. Maritza Solano is the Community Schools Manager at CASA, and she was instrumental in shaping the vision at IHSLP and ultimately launching the school. For the last 30 years, CASA’s mission has been to improve the quality of life of immigrants in Maryland. “The data around the ELL graduation rate brought us to the exceptional journey of opening IHSLP,” she explains. “The first year revealed the following needs: helping undocumented expectant mothers get medical coverage to ensure safe deliveries, covering basic needs like winter coats for our students experiencing winter for the first time, and organizing a range of legal referrals.” She continued, “We know that these are only the first of many firsts, but we remain committed to responding to the needs of our students and families. We are continuously assessing what our students and families need to more effectively serve them and allow us to understand what outside partnerships to bring to each school.” CASA, INPS and Springpoint, along with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York as part of its Opportunity by Design initiative, have served as our “cornerstone” partners. CASA provides access to legal aid, advocacy and social justice seminars for our students and families, while INPS helps us with instructional strategies for integrating content and language acquisition. These partnerships play an important role in serving our ELL students. However, we know that to truly level the playing field for our students, we need to leverage other community resources and go beyond students’ needs to tap into their passions in areas like art, college planning, media and sports.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our series, which will delve into the great partnerships IHSLP has cultivated to provide opportunities for their students in and out of the classroom.

Daniel Sass

Daniel Sass is originally from Connecticut. He is an alumnus of both the University of Michigan and the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. He spent seven years as an English teacher in Baltimore City and in Prince George’s County. Currently, he is the assistant principal at the International High School at Langley Park. He also serves as the school’s soccer coach and tennis coach. When he’s not at school, he is likely either reading a book, running, playing pub trivia, or conjuring up ways to travel the world.

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