English Learner families benefit from the UCS Newcomers program

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published November 23, 2021

 Teacher Luma Alaowad works with a student in the Utica Community Schools Newcomers program at West Utica Elementary School in Shelby Township.

Teacher Luma Alaowad works with a student in the Utica Community Schools Newcomers program at West Utica Elementary School in Shelby Township.

Photo provided by Tim McAvoy


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — The Utica Community Schools Newcomers program is helping English Learner families make the transition to UCS.

The Newcomers — students who have lived less than two years in the United States and test at a beginning English proficiency level — are receiving a half-day of English language instruction, a half-day with their grade level classmates with support, and help from a community liaison who works with the family to help with the transition.

Laura Crouter, K-12 English Learner coordinator, said this is a need they have recognized for a while now, and with the number of immigrants expected to rise, they knew we needed to begin putting appropriate supports in place for our families.

“The purpose of this program is to expedite the students’ transition into U.S. schools, so they can be successful with grade level curriculum and all other aspects of our school system as quickly as possible,” Crouter said in a press release.

The districtwide program was implemented for 40 first through sixth grade students this year at West Utica Elementary School. The district said that Newcomers have been getting English support in their neighborhood schools for the past 10 years and that bringing the program under one roof maximizes the English learning supports the district can give to students and their families.

“The Newcomers program provides the direct resources for EL families that welcomes them to our community and establishes a framework for their children to achieve success in our classrooms,” Superintendent Robert Monroe said via email.

The district said that direct and constant support to families in English and their native languages is what establishes the foundation for success, both academically and in after-school involvement.

Newcomers Community Liaison Nasma Elias said the program helps transition families.

“It makes the families more comfortable. When they first arrive and everything is in English, it is very confusing and they can get lost. But this program gives them a chance to express themselves and talk,” she said in a press release.

During the half-day of English language development with other students in the Newcomers program, students develop their writing and verbal communication skills, and they learn about some of the culture of American schools.

“The Newcomers program allows (UCS) to bring the resources for our families together in one place to support their successful transition to our country. There are many challenges for families who are in a new country, and this program helps to break down the barriers to give students and parents resources (and) an understanding of the educational opportunities offered in our schools,” Crouter said via email.

After the half-day of English language development, students spend the remainder of the day in a general education classroom with grade level peers to learn about math, social studies and science and to participate in media center activities, music, art and physical education.

“This also gives them opportunities to socialize and interact with native English peers,” Crouter said in the press release.

She said most students spend an academic year in the program.