How to Open a Locker
This summer marked the sixth year of the IRC’s Newcomer School Readiness Program. For seven weeks this summer, the IRC held a program at Thorndyke Elementary School in Tukwila to help recently-arrived students prepare for school. The program, which is run in partnership with the Community Schools Collaboration, aims to familiarize students with school rules and procedures, to help them adapt to being in an ethnically diverse environment and to provide them with some essential English vocabulary and basic academic knowledge. Almost 40 students, divided into primary and secondary classes, participated in the program this summer. Students came from Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Somalia, Togo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Highlights from the Primary class
To keep the classroom environment engaging, we reinforced what students were learning during more traditional academic lessons through tangible, interactive activities. For example, to better understand the concept of addresses, students participated in a neighborhood scavenger hunt, where teams had to find out information about different houses, street signs and cars in the streets around the school. They also wrote letters to other family members, which they then mailed to their new homes in Tukwila.
All English all the time was exhausting for the primary students, so we interspersed our classroom lessons with games, songs, stories and some free play time. Program staff drew on their experience working with summer camps to introduce students to a number of cooperative games that emphasized teamwork and goofiness more than winning and losing. The students especially enjoyed the clothing relay race (where each student in turn had to put on an assortment of clothes before running the race course) and the scream run (where students ran as far as they could for as long as they could sustain a scream)! Among the dedicated interns who worked with us this summer, we were lucky enough to have a former professional dancer with extensive teaching experience. She led numerous movement-based activities throughout the summer, such as variations on charades using the vocabulary of the week. Under her direction, the students also learned about a classic American dance style – disco – and choreographed a routine to the song “We Are Family,” which they performed for their parents and community members at the summer school graduation.
Highlights from the Secondary class
In trying to keep with a normal school-day schedule, each day usually included vocabulary building and writing, PE, library period, and school-readiness class periods. According to an end-of-program survey, when asked what activity helped them to learn about school and feel ready, one of the program’s school readiness components, learning how to open lockers, was the most frequent response. Students enjoyed the challenge of mastering combination locks, a skill that will make at least one aspect of their first day of school in the United States a bit easier.
Not all of our time was spent in the classroom. About once a week, we got out of the classroom and went on a field trip. These trips included walking field trips to Foster Library, the fire station, and Key Bank in addition to field trips outside of Tukwila to Highline Community College, the Seattle Aquarium, the Woodland Park Zoo and downtown Seattle.
According to the survey, Pike Place Market was among the students’ favorite parts of the whole summer school experience. The trip to Pike Place Market was intended to help familiarize students with the public transportation system in Seattle, specifically the light rail. Students learned how to buy tickets, to reload an ORCA card at the kiosk and to read the route map. Even though downtown Seattle is easily accessible by the light rail, few students had been there before, and all were excited to explore one of Seattle’s most popular tourist attractions.
Written by Anyie Li and Emily Sloane, IRC staff
Photos by Cameron Karsten