As the number of students with immigrant and refugee backgrounds rises, Burlington High School Principal Mark Sullivan is aiming to expand non-traditional programming to better meet their needs.
The program would be an expansion of the existing Simon Youth Academy, which offers evening high school classes for juniors and seniors to provide an alternative path to a diploma while working a minimum of 25 hours a week.
“We’d be looking to expand the offerings for these students as their needs change,” Sullivan said.
The exact shape of the program is not certain, but Sullivan hoped it could include some component of a “newcomer academy,” a one- to two-year program for newly arrived immigrant and refugee students with limited or interrupted formal education.
“This newcomer academy would provide instructional programs that promote the rapid acquisition of the English language, develop native language skills, orientate youth to the American culture, all while offering students and families a caring and supportive environment to their transition to the States,” Sullivan said.
The goal would be to provide intensive support early in a students’ transition, then allow the student to move back into the regular high school system for the remainder of their education.
There are currently 64 English language learners in Burlington High School. Sullivan said many of those students have a lot to deal with, from adjusting to a new culture to dealing with trauma to juggling work and school. Some might get off work at midnight or 1 a.m. and struggle with tardiness or even drop out, and a nontraditional school schedule could allow them to access a diploma they otherwise wouldn’t be able to attain.
“The traditional high school schedule isn’t serving these students well, so we need to come up with the staffing for an alternative,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Eric Conti. “We have to start thinking a little bit differently.”
The expanded alternative model is likely to take a while to materialize, as additional staffing for it was not included in the high school’s budget request to the School Committee.