New York City , United States

Language-Wise in the Global Classroom

Internationals Network for Public Schools

October 11, 2011

An innovative urban high school invites immigrant youth back to the classroom to learn from one another

I like to work in groups because I think that is good…to appreciate other people’s cultures. For example I learned from talking with my Hindu group that they believe in a lot of different gods. This is important for me because if I meet someone and I know about their beliefs we can exchange ideas. — Ashley

Ashley is a grade 10 student at the International High School (LaGuardia Community College campus), who originally hails from Ecuador. In order to advance, grade 10 students need to present a portfolio consisting of several pieces of written work, which is evaluated both by teachers and fellow students. The above passage is from Ashley’s portfolio—specifically, from a reflective essay she wrote about her educational experiences.

Like many young immigrants to the United States, Ashley will need to attain near native fluency in English, as well as mastery of high school curriculum, to be successful at school and make the most of the opportunities her new country affords.

From English to World Culture to America

The Internationals Network for Public Schools aims to help Ashley, and thousands of students like her find their way to school and future success by offering a high school experience that is tailored to integrating young immigrants’ needs.

If the biggest challenge to immigrant student success is achieving enough proficiency in academic English to graduate from high school, the key obstacle is time. According to New York University professor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, it takes five to seven years under optimal conditions for a non-English-speaking student to achieve the academic language skills of his or her native-born peers. For immigrant students to have a reasonable chance of overcoming this hurdle, special programs are required. This is where Internationals stepped in.

Internationals at School

Founded in 1985, Internationals is a network of small public high schools that are part of the publicly-funded education system in the United States. The Internationals network differs from ordinary high schools in that they serve the English language learner population exclusively. Today there are 12 high school campuses in two states with particularly high immigration rates: New York and California.

Students of Internationals schools come from over 90 countries, and speak more than 50 different languages. The schools are as diverse as the students they serve: one location in the Bronx, for instance, is 100% Latino, while another in Brooklyn is eclectic – the student body is 36% Hispanic, 31% Asian, 10% European, and 23% Black (African and Haitian). All these students face similar challenges though: mastering English, acquiring the soft skills they need to navigate social interactions fluidly, and learning a curriculum for which they might not have been prepared in their countries of origin.

Peer Support

Internationals takes a collaborative, integrated approach to education. Language development takes place in all subject-based classes as well as in a dedicated classroom. Teams of teachers work as a group “to plan curriculum and instruction and make decisions regarding the academic, linguistic and social and emotional development of their students.” Within classes, students work in small groups with others who speak their native language; this allows those who are more proficient in English to help those who are newer to the language in the comfort of their mother tongue.

By developing the capacities – and confidence – of its students, Internationals schools are not only helping the individuals who pass through their halls, but the broader communities in which they live. The vast majority of these students come from low-income homes. Every student who graduates and goes on to college has much better odds of rising out of poverty, and becoming a contributing, participating, successful resident of their new country.


Graduation rates from the Internationals schools, most of which are located in New York, are more than double the rate for English language learners in their region as a whole. And a stunning 90% of Internationals students will go on to college. In 2007, New York’s municipal government gave five out of six area Internationals schools an “A” rating; in that same year three of the city’s top 20 schools were Internationals schools. Attendance at the schools is similarly impressive, ranging from 88–95%.

Internationals schools have a broad network of supporters, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. In 2009, the Internationals Network for Public Schools was recognized with an E Pluribus Unum Prize.

Making it Work for You:

  • Integrate English language learning throughout all subjects in addition to offering dedicated teaching time
  • Give teachers the flexibility to shape the curriculum to meet the needs of a variety of students.
  • Use a team work approach for students with a similar native language so they can give each other support and benefit from the peer learning experience.

For this Good Idea contact:

Claire Sylvan, Executive Director , Internationals Network for Public Schools
New York, United States,

E Pluribus Unum Prizes 2009 Winner - Internationals

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