Salvadorans and Education in Alexandria

Illustration 1: The International Academy, T.C. Williams High School (retrieved from http://iatcw.weebly.com/)

 

While reading about refugees from El Salvador and their lives in the D.C. Metropolitan area, one of the things that really stuck out to me was the efforts made by Alexandria City Public Schools to educate these recent arrivals. While school systems all over the country face challenges in educating a population that is continuously becoming more and more diverse, Alexandria and a few schools in New York and California have come up with a unique and effective solution called the International Academy.

The International Academy is the product of an organization known as the Internationals Network for Public Schools. This organization has established “locations in 17 high schools and academies, located in New York City, California’s Bay Area, and Alexandria, Virginia” and serves “over 5,000 students from 119 countries and speaking 93 languages.”[1] Alexandria’s branch of the International Academy was established in 2012 as a part of T.C. Williams High School and has grown in size to its current enrollment of “142 students, speaking 21 different languages.”[2] Each International Academy serves a distinct student population, depending upon the predominant immigrant group within the school district, but all International Academy’s are “built on a five-principal model emphasizing heterogeneity and collaboration, experiential learning, language and content integration, localized autonomy and responsibility, and one learning model for all.”[3] The push to establish such a program in Alexandria stemmed largely from the dramatic influx of Salvadorans, especially the “nearly 3,000 unaccompanied minors” who have recently arrived in the area.[4] At T.C. Williams, the population of the International Academy is about 75 percent Hispanic, with the remainder made up of students from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.[5] The Internationals Network for Public Schools has emphasized the ability of students who are English Language Learners to work within these five principals and succeed at high levels. The International Academy itself focuses heavily on peer mentoring and encourages students to teach each other when they are able, which serves the double purpose of helping their fellow classmates while furthering and deepening their own understanding.[6]

While the full scope of how academically successful students in this program will be is still left to be determined, officials from the International Network for Public Schools claim that “their students complete 12th grade at two times the rate of similar new immigrants at regular public schools.”[7] The academic record withstanding, the International Academy established at T.C. Williams is already making a positive difference in the lives of immigrants and in the community at large. One specific example from Alexandria is “Derlin Castillo, 20, a junior from El Salvador” who excels in math, “speaks excellent English and works evenings in a restaurant”.[8] In an effort to help students give back to the community in which they live, the International Academy held a “Community Stewardship Day” in April 2014 in which “approximately 370 9th- and 10th-grade students participated in various environmental and community service learning activities, including native tree planting, aquatic plant restoration, water quality testing, litter clean-up, and invasive plant removal at various parks around Alexandria and along the George Washington Memorial Parkway.”[9]

As Alexandria City Public Schools continue to try to provide the best education for their students, a key recent action taken by administrators has been the establishment of an International Academy at Francis C. Hammond Middle School. Established at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, this International Academy is “the first middle school to be set up by the International Network for Public Schools.”[10] Already this year, this branch of the International Academy has landed itself on the list of the “41 most innovative schools in the United States.”[11] What started with an effort to better serve students from El Salvador and other Central American countries has expanded into one that helps almost every major immigrant group in the D.C. metropolitan area.  Hopefully, the branch at Francis C. Hammond and the one at T.C. Williams High School can continue to live up to these high standards and serve the ever changing population of Alexandria to the best of their abilities for many years to come.

[1] Patrick Ensslin, “International Academy,” Theogony, November 7, 2013, retrieved from http://www.acpsk12.org/theogony/2013-2014/?p=143.

[2] “New International Academy Opens at Francis C. Hammond Middle School,” ACPS Express, October 1, 2015, retrieved from http://www.acpsk12.org/news/?p=305.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Pamela Constable, “An Experiment in Immigrant Education,” Washington Post, November 2, 2014.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “International Academy Students Hold First Community Stewardship Day,” Alexandria City Public Schools, May 2, 2014, retrieved from http://www.acps.k12.va.us/news/good-news/gn2014050202.php.

    [10] “New International Academy Opens at Francis C. Hammond Middle School,” ACPS Express, October 1, 2015, retrieved from http://www.acpsk12.org/news/?p=305.

[11] “Francis C. Hammond International Academy Named Among Most Innovative Schools in U.S.,” ACPS Express, October 20, 2015, retrieved from http://www.acpsk12.org/news/?p=467.

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