Monday, November 14, 2016

Lafayette changes welcome diverse students

Buffalo Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Fatima Morrell and Lafayette High School Principal John Starkey

By Franklin Hagler and Matthew Neidhart
Bengal News West Reporters
Try walking through the hallways at Lafayette High School and finding the bathroom.
You don’t see the traditional sign marking the room; it even lacks the symbol that would normally be seen as male or female.
At Lafayette every room is labeled with a sign that shows what that room is in six different languages. The multi-linguistic paper signs can be deceiving in appearance.
“Half of our population is African, from Central or East Africa, we have Arabic kids, a big population of the Burmese speaking and Korean community. The other 50 percent are from Puerto Rico and speak Spanish,” Lafayette Principal John Starkey said.
Buffalo is the most linguistically diverse place in New York State according to Buffalo Public Schools officials. Over 84 languages are represented in local communities, and with the influx of refugees on the West Side that can grow. This is causing a change in the way that teachers and the Department of Education are approaching education and Lafayette High School has become ground zero for this experiment.
Working with Dr. Fatima Morrell, assistant superintendent for curriculum and Mrs. Nadia Nashir, assistant superintendent for multilingual education, Principal Starkey has helped install changes in the way teachers speak to students from different cultures, create a Parent Center for everyone in the community and make tangible changes to the textbooks and resources available to all students.
“Students learn better when they see themselves and their history and culture represented in the curriculum,” Dr. Morrell said. “We want to create a warm and welcoming environment for our parents and students and make them feel appreciated.”
Lafayette High is not set up as a traditional school, as there are three distinct schools housed in this one building. Lafayette Proper School 204 has an 11th and 12th grade class. “Phase-Out” is what it is being called as the junior class will be the last set of students under that school.
Lafayette Phase-In School 207 is a new program that was started by Starkey. This school has just a ninth grade, 100 of the new freshmen have been in the country for four years or less.  
The last school is Newcomers Academy that has grades 7-12 and nearly 300 students. This academy is mostly made up of Students with Interrupted Formal Education or SIFE students.
“We have students coming from war torn countries or impoverished conditions so they are coming with a lot of socio-emotional needs and so we can’t just look at the academic support for them but look at the comprehensive support for them,” Starkey said.
            Eighty percent of the students in Buffalo public schools come from poverty,  which is why community schooling and building relationships with the families has become so important.  
            “If we truly want to improve student learning we have to improve adult learning, ” Mrs. Nashir said.
Her department has hired six cultural research specialists that are holding workshops for teachers and parents. This month they plan on training 150 teachers and by June they want all teachers to be trained.

            “In the multilingual department we understand that many of our teachers have not had an English language learner in front of them,” Nashir said. “ The ecology has to speak to our students.”