A month after immigrating from Bulgaria, 16-year-old Petre Andonov sums up the confusion he feels in his new homeland, saying, “It’s like the Moon.”
Petre moved to Woodside with his father and older brother after winning a green card lottery, and was among those enrolling yesterday at Queens’ newest high school – The Newcomers High School: An Academy for New Americans.
In halting English, the teenager explained why his family decided to enroll him at Newcomers, located in the former Long Island City High School near Queens Plaza. “We know that here I can learn English faster.”
In an age of rising anti-immigration sentiment, the Board of Education is launching an experimental high school that will focus exclusively on recent immigrants – particularly those, such as Petre, who have arrived within the past five months or less.
“Queens is the hub of immigration, and schools here are overcrowded,” said Lourdes Burrows, the principal of the school, which – like other high schools in the city – opens for the first day of classes today. “The need for Queens was a school that dealt with the needs of immigrant students and their families. Though schools have been addressing those issues, there has not been enough done.”
Students will receive bilingual instruction in academics, and intensive English lessons, nine hours a week. Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Polish, Russian and Spanish are some of the languages spoken by the 30-member staff.
The school will also assist their families, providing English lessons and information on citizenship, social services and medical care, Burrows said.
As of yesterday, about 200 students were enrolled. The goal is 700, and the number of students has been rising daily.
Despite the uncertainty of how the first day will proceed and the anticipation of more enrollment throughout the year, Burrows isn’t discouraged. In fact, she’s excited.
“There is a certain personality you need to work in the schools,” she said. “You must be flexible, excited and willing to accept change. You cannot be a teacher expecting five classes and 34 students for the entire year.”
Unlike other schools that anticipate a slowdown after opening day, the Newcomers High School will prepare for new students to enroll daily. At neighboring William C. Bryant or Newtown High Schools, which also have large immigrant populations, it is not uncommon for 50 to 100 students to register in a day, Burrows said.
All entering students will participate in a three-day orientation that will provide basic survival information: the layout of the building, city transportation systems, currency and basic vocabulary.
Burrows, who left her parents in Cuba when she was 11 years old to come to America with her uncle, said she was particularly attuned to the needs of the immigrant child. “I understand the loneliness, the fact that others are not understanding, not only linguistically, but culturally, the loneliness for their country,” Burrows said. “It is not easy being an immigrant, but it can be exciting and interesting.”
Teacher Won Sook Lee, who immigrated to the United States 10 years ago, predicted that the “school will be wonderful for the newcomers. They’ll be able to adjust psychologically. In other schools, they’re in the margin. Here they’re in the center.”