Equity & Diversity

Working Immigrants Get New School Options

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 21, 2004 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

An increasing number of school districts are adding programs in the evening and on weekends to accommodate immigrant students who hold jobs.

With the help of a wealthy businessman, two districts in Colorado opened schools this month for immigrants ages 16 to 20 who have limited proficiency in English. The schools provide classes during evenings and on Saturdays.

Their benefactor, Jared S. Polis, who is also the chairman of the Colorado state board of education, hopes to provide the start-up money, through his foundation, the Jared Polis Foundation, for a dozen schools for older immigrant students in the state within the next decade.

Also this month, the Houston school board in Texas voted unanimously to start a charter school by January for immigrants age 17 or older that will provide classes at nontraditional hours.

“If you are dealing with older immigrant students, inevitably you are dealing with students who have adult responsibilities,” said Howard A. Friedman, the principal and founder of the Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School, a public school in New York City started in 1989 that has always provided flexible scheduling. “The first thing is survival. If you have a school that closes at 6 p.m., you’re going to rule out many students who work.”

About 65 percent of the 800 students enrolled at the Manhattan Night and Day School are immigrants. The school has inspired the creation of other programs with flexible hours, including the two new schools in Colorado.

Growing Need

But educators who run such programs say that flexible hours are far from the norm nationwide, though interest in meeting the needs of immigrant youths who work full time and are unlikely to attend regular high schools is growing.

Many communities have a large number of youths who fall into that category.

A 2003 study by Richard Fry of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington estimated that one-third of the nation’s more than half-million 16- to 19-year-old Latinos who are high school dropouts have had little or no contact with U.S. schools. That study recommended that such students be served by adult education or workplace programs.

Districts that aim to serve such youths say the students should still have a chance to get a regular high school diploma rather than a General Educational Development certificate, which is what many adult education programs offer. Most public adult education programs also charge tuition.

Students enrolled in the new immigrant schools in Colorado, the charter school planned for Houston, and the Manhattan Night and Day school can earn regular high school diplomas.

Though laws vary, youths in many states are entitled to a free public high school education until they are 21. But, while public schools must admit older immigrant students, many never register. And if they do, some drop out after having to attend class with much younger students.

Shelley P. Gutstein, the prin cipal of four transitional high schools for English-language learners in Virginia’s 166,000-student Fairfax County schools, said she believes many districts lack the funding to seek out immigrant youths who work or to provide programs with flexible scheduling.

Disincentive?

Mr. Friedman, the Manhattan principal, also contends that the federal No Child Left Behind Act provides a disincentive for districts to start separate schools with a concentration of students deemed at risk of academic failure, such as immigrants who arrive in the United States as teenagers.

Last week, Mr. Friedman learned that his school was on a list of schools not making adequate yearly progress under that law. He views his school’s presence on the list as “an insult.”

The benchmarks New York state has set under the federal law should be realistic for immigrant students who don’t arrive in U.S. schools at an early age and who may take longer than younger English-language learners to catch up academically with their peers, he said.

If the No Child Left Behind Act isn’t altered, and his school continues to fail to make what is deemed adequate progress, Mr. Friedman said, “we’re going to triage the population in such a way that some very worthy students don’t go to this school.”

Between half and two-thirds of the students who have enrolled in the two new immigrant schools in Colorado, which provide classes on Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, have never set foot in regular U.S. schools, estimates Marla J. Jacobson, the principal of the two schools.

Both schools are called the New America School and are managed by a nonprofit organization of the same name. One school, in Denver, is operating under a contract with the 72,000-student Denver school system. The other school is a charter school located in Thornton and operating under the 6,500-student Adams County 14 school district, which is in Commerce City, Colo.

The two schools have enrolled more than 600 students this fall, though many of them attend part time. Ms. Jacobson said the night classes attract more students than the day classes. A majority of the students are Spanish-speaking and work in the service or construction industries. Many are young mothers.

‘It’s An Investment’

By 2000, 105 high schools nationwide had created “newcomer centers” to help immigrant students with their basic English skills, according to the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics. Fewer than 10 of those, however, provided flexible hours, according to the center.

In addition, the Fairfax County school district runs four transitional high school for students with limited proficiency in English. A majority of the 400 students in those schools are ages 18 to 25 and attend classes from 6:30 p.m. to 9:45 p.m., according to Ms. Gutstein.

“It’s an investment in the community, in all of our futures,” said Ms. Gutstein. “It’s an investment in the children of our students, should they have them, as well, to help those students be more successful in school because their parents have a higher level of education.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Want to Build a Kinder, More Inclusive School? These Students Have Ideas
Students from across the U.S. present concrete solutions. The most important one: Listen to them.
4 min read
Image of a scale.
wildpixel/iStock/Getty
Equity & Diversity Opinion The ‘Great Replacement Theory’ Is a Lie. It's Also a Threat to Schools
The conspiracy espoused by the Buffalo shooting suspect is of particular concern for schools, writes Jonathan E. Collins.
Jonathan E. Collins
3 min read
Signs, balloons, and police tape are wrapped around a pole across from Tops Friendly Market, the Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store that was the site of a racist shooting rampage.
Signs, balloons, and police tape are wrapped around a pole across from Tops Friendly Market, the Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store that was the site of a racist shooting rampage on May 14.
Joshua Bessex/AP
Equity & Diversity A School Openly Discusses Race in a State That Bans It
At Millwood High School, discussions on race are everywhere, and students say the lessons are essential.
7 min read
Students pass through the halls in between classes at Millwood High School on April 20, 2022 in Oklahoma City.
Students change classes at Millwood High School this spring in Oklahoma City.
Brett Deering for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion The Buffalo Massacre Is Exactly Why We Need to Talk About Racism With White Students
Too many white people are receiving their information about race from racist media rather than their schools, writes David Nurenberg.
David Nurenberg
4 min read
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/AP