Education

New academy for immigrant and refugee students planned in Fayette

Many refugee children settling in Lexington attend Fayette County Public Schools and receive backpacks and other supplies through Kentucky Refugees Ministries. The district’s planned Newcomer Academy would work with community agencies to ease the transition for middle and high school students.
Many refugee children settling in Lexington attend Fayette County Public Schools and receive backpacks and other supplies through Kentucky Refugees Ministries. The district’s planned Newcomer Academy would work with community agencies to ease the transition for middle and high school students. Photo provided by Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

A Newcomer Academy for students who have entered the United States for the first time, who are learning the English language and who need extra academic help is under development in Fayette County Public Schools.

With final approval from school board members, the program for 60 to 80 middle and high school students in 6th to 11th grade could open in the old Linlee Elementary school building as early as January, Michael Dailey, associate director of federal, state and magnet programs, said.

There are similar newcomer programs in Louisville, Cincinnati and Nashville.

Lexington’s individualized program is designed to help students “accelerate their language acquisition” and mastery of academics, Dailey said.

Ultimately students will move from the Newcomer Academy into Fayette’s middle and high schools.

The academy will serve the needs of some of the most vulnerable students— those with low scores on a test that determines their English proficiency. No student will be forced to attend the academy, however. Parents would have to agree before their child was assigned to attend.

Refugee students from a war-torn country have possibly had traumatizing experiences and have been shuttled between several places before arriving in Lexington. At the academy, they will have access to services to address that.

The Newcomer Academy will also include a special unit for students with a lack of formal education.

Approximately 25 percent of the students who enter Fayette County Public Schools with a designation as a “newcomer” to the United States have had a lack of formal schooling for two or more years or have had their formal education interrupted.

The majority of those newcomers are refugees from Africa and unaccompanied minors from Central America, according to school board agenda documents. Those students can require intense English and cultural instruction, as well as social, emotional, and psychological support that is often beyond that provided in the traditional middle or high school.

Students may be enrolled in the Newcomer Academy for as little as one grading period, or could stay as long as one academic year.

Before moving into a traditional school, district officials want the students to make adequate progress in acquiring English skills and in their course work.

Fayette school officials have been consulting with experts, meeting with staff and community groups and visiting similar programs in Louisville, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Nashville as they work on the new academy.

Cost estimates for the 2017-18 budget are $1.2 million.

As of February, Kentucky was the 14th largest receiver of refugees in the United States, though the current administration’s immigration policies recently slowed travel to the U.S. for refugees and immigrants. Dana Lea, community engagement coordinator at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, said the Newcomer Academy was badly needed in Fayette County schools where, she said, the district’s English-As-A-Second Language initiative was “highly underfunded and understaffed.” She said she saw “great successes” come out of a similar academy in Louisville.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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