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Newcomers welcome

Summit Daily/Julie SutorMiddle schoolers Julie Nunez, left, and Nancy Valencia share a joke during a social studies lesson in the Summit Middle School Newcomer Center. The center provides intensive English language instruction for students new to the United States.
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SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit Middle School teacher Chris Hanson probably plays a mean game of charades.He limped across the front of his classroom Wednesday clutching his thigh, an exaggerated grimace spread across his face.”Mr. Hanson is hurt,” called out one of the students.Hanson then walked over to the classroom’s switched-off TV, peered into the dark screen with intense interest and pumped his fists in the air.”Mr. Hanson is excited,” said another eager student.Hanson’s energetic pantomime continued for about half an hour as his students – all natives of Mexico – practiced using adjectives such as exhausted, confident, scared and happy in sentences.

Hanson runs the Summit Middle School portion of the Newcomer Center – Summit School District’s new English Language Acquisition (ELA) program for families new to the United States.The center provides space, resources and teaching staff for students and parents so they can make strides toward English proficiency. The district developed the Newcomer Center as a way to reduce drop-out rates and to help immigrant parents become more involved in their children’s education.During the school day, the Summit Middle School and Summit High School components of the Newcomer Center look very much like any other classroom. Maps, flags, classroom rules and student projects adorn the walls. Teachers lead discussions, students cluster together to work on assignments and blackboards contain the day’s nuggets of new information.But when the bell rings, the students stay put. They spend 75 percent of each day with the same teacher working on basic English skills. Students only leave the classroom for electives like art and music.”If you can imagine yourself in another country where you don’t speak the language, you can understand how that might be intimidating,” said the school district’s ELA coordinator, Sarah Cox. “We strive to foster a nurturing environment, just like in any classroom, where kids are willing to take risks.”With less than three weeks of instruction under their belts, the students in the SHS Newcomer Center class are already gaining confidence in their English skills, even though many of them spoke little to no English on Sept. 7 when they first stepped foot into an American school.

“I think it’s amazing to see how confident they’ve become,” said Mary Hanson, who teaches the SHS group. “When they first came in, they were hesitant to talk to me, even in their own language. Now, I can write on the board (in English) and they understand it. They bring things back from their elective classes, and ask, ‘What’s this?'”They’re really excited about learning and understanding,” she added.According to Mary Hanson, the class’s small size, limited exposure to the commotion of the high school and extensive time together is just what her students need.”It becomes almost like a family. It’s a great atmosphere, because they feel successful in school. So hopefully, they’ll stay in school. We want them to graduate,” she said.The students’ primary focus is learning to read, write and speak English, but the teachers also infuse content from other subject areas into the instruction.”It’s important to give them the building blocks in all the content areas, so when they go onto the next level, the teacher won’t need to teach the basics,” Chris Hanson said.Chris Hanson spent an hour Wednesday building his students’ social studies vocabulary, familiarizing them with map terminology, the cardinal directions and U.S. geography.



In the coming months, the parent component of the Newcomer Center will open, providing evening instruction two days a week.”It will be an opportunity for parents to get help from certified teachers on how to help with homework,” Cox said.The Newcomer Center model may be new for Summit School District, but the Hansons – a husband-and-wife team – are old pros. They worked in a newcomer center in Colorado Springs for three years before coming to Summit County this year.The pair has also taught in Poland, Mexico and England, a testament to their passion for transcultural education.”It helps me empathize with my students, because I’ve been in situations where someone’s yelling at me and I have no idea what they’re saying,” Mary Hanson said. “I feel like it’s so exciting to see the students’ progress, and I’m fascinated to learn about their countries, their languages and their cultures.”Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 203 or jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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