Understanding Your Narrative is Important
As the number of newcomer students arriving in OUSD steadily increases, teachers on the front lines are developing innovative and personalized methods for connecting with them and easing their transition to a new language and a new way of life in Oakland. One such teacher is Carrie Haslanger, who coordinates the Newcomer Program at Castlemont High School, and teaches Ethnic Studies.
Castlemont houses the latest Newcomer Program in the district, with 100 ninth grade students, mostly from Central America, forming the founding class of what will one day be a large part of the overall Castlemont population. In fact, 10 percent of OUSD's current high school students are newcomers.
“On the first day of school I taught just six words to students: happy, sad, powerful, mad, peaceful and scared. I asked them to choose one of the words to describe how they felt in the moment, and then explain in their home language why they felt that way. Two students that day asked me in their home language, "Miss, how do you say depressed?" Another student asked, "Miss, how do you say blessed?" To each student I gave them the word they sought, and I also heartily added that I appreciated how honest they were with me about their feelings that day.”
Students are grouped into cohorts and their core teachers plan collaboratively and work to connect the students with medical, legal, and other services outside of the classroom. Carrie has learned the importance of first honoring their feelings and reassuring them that their voices matter.
“I told my Ethnic Studies students this year that we will eventually understand much more about what Ethnic Studies is and how it works” she says, “but that quite simply Ethnic Studies works to ensure that all narratives are told, and that right now the most important narrative is you. We need to understand your narrative.”
This orientation is linked to working with students who have experienced trauma which, almost universally, her newcomer students have. The most foundational element of successful teaching and learning for these students is that they feel safe and protected in the classroom, and that they are able to build or rebuild caring relationships. In order to feel that way, students need to be able to express themselves.
Carrie was intentionally building caring, trusting and honest relationships with every student. “It is my hope, based on research and experience, that providing students with these opportunities to express their feelings and tell their stories will help them to strengthen their voices and to begin to heal from their trauma.”
For more information about Newcomer Programs at OUSD schools, contact Tom Hughes