NEISD newcomer program welcomes refugees, new arrivals

‘I like to call it a fruit salad': ESL assistant director says

SAN ANTONIO – A group effort between English as a second language teachers and others who teach standard subjects, such as math, science and social studies, in the Northeast Independent School District goes into its newcomer program

“I like to call it a fruit salad because we’re embracing all the different cultures, all the different languages, because we can learn from each other,” said Kerry Haupert, assistant director of the NEISD bilingual ESL program.

For their first day of class, sixth-grade ELS teacher Jennifer Zagouris, began by asking each of her students where they were from and what languages they spoke, along with some English.

Most answered in Spanish, French and Swahili, and even though Zagouris is bilingual in English and Spanish, she said it helps to convey emotion, gestures and other visuals.

“It’s really amazing,” Zagouris said. “They will learn so fast. It’s incredible what you see at the beginning of the year, just two months later.”

Aubrey Chancellor, NEISD spokeswoman, said the students spend several periods with Zagouris, who also covers material for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills assessment, or TEKS, the state-mandated standardized test.

Chancellor said after that, the students go to “sheltered classes” for the regular courses with the help of their ESL teacher.

Haupert said NEISD currently has 350 refugee students whose families have been forced to flee their home countries usually due to war or civil conflict. In the past, she said, they’ve had students from Afghanistan and Iraq, but lately they’ve seen 27 students alone from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“They’re so proud to be here. They’re so ready to start a new life here," Zagouris said.

She said like other children, they have dreams and aspirations.

“We might speak a different language. We might look different, but we’re all the same,” Zagouris said.

About the Author

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

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