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WE Embrace Equity: Newcomer Centers

Moving to a new country can be difficult for anyone, but for students who have just arrived in this country as refugees, or from traumatic situations in their home country, transitioning to school can be nearly impossible.

In the Beaverton School District there are four Newcomer Centers to help the most vulnerable students new to the country adjust to school in the United States, and to support them academically, mentally and emotionally. Newcomer Centers are schools within schools that provide acculturation supports to students who have entered the country within the last year, have had an interruption in education, have suffered some type of trauma or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"Any student that goes to a different country will go through some form of culture shock, there is always a process of acculturation that will need nurturing," says Toshiko Maurizio, Administrator for Multilingual Programs.  "The students we are trying to target, are the ones that have significant acculturation issues that can be exhibited through outward behaviors, internal, or emotional behaviors, especially if they didn't have formalized education. What we are trying to do is teach the correct behaviors before they go back to their home school."

There are four Newcomer Centers across the District, one each at Elmonica and Sexton Mountain elementaries, one at Mountain View Middle School and one at Beaverton High School, each with a licensed English Language Development (ELD) teacher and an instructional assistant. There is a part-time Social Worker and a part-time School Psychologist who also support the program. Each of the centers can support up to 15 students a year.

The majority of the programs are self-contained, students engage in instructional activities that work to enhance and accelerate the acquisition of the English language so they are able to navigate the classrooms and communities of which they are a part. Students at the elementary level participate with their peers in specials classes like P.E., music, library and technology. At the middle and high school levels, students participate in electives classes and are provided additional support in the core content classes. "We want the students to be able to practice their English in social settings and it's also good for them to socialize," says Toshiko. "At the secondary level, students participate in electives, and some core classes, but they are not alone."

Teachers in the Newcomer Centers are provided training in trauma-informed teaching to reduce the initial distress of the students and to help them eventually return to their home school. The Newcomer Center is only a temporary placement, and students are transitioned back to their home school within a year. Additionally, students and their families are given support for basic needs. Every student who comes to the Newcomer Center is provided with a home visit from a social worker to connect the family with resources in the community.

"Many of these students are at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of basic needs, they are the most fragile of our English language learners, especially with the interruption of education. If we don't take care of that piece, and fill those holes immediately, that can affect how they can acquire the second language," says Toshiko.