Original URL:  http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E11583%257E1245526,00.html

School makes kids' 1st day less confusing
Denver Post Mountain Bureau
March 16, 2003
By Steve Lipsher

EDWARDS - The first day of school for 10-year-old Daniel Martinez came during the middle of the school term, when his fifth- grade classmates were already ensconced in reading programs, science experiments and fast friendships.

It would be a bewildering environment for anyone, much less a young immigrant who doesn't speak much English. "He's a little scared," said Daniel's father, Diego. "It's difficult for him - a new country, new school, new friends.But he wanted to be here."

To deal with an annual student turnover of nearly 60 percent and a regular influx of students from Mexico, Daniel's new school, Edwards Elementary, has launched a unique welcome program for new students and their parents.

Paired with a Spanish-speaking liaison, Daniel began the afternoon-long session with a battery of placement tests, followed by a tour of the building and an introduction to his teachers.

His father, meanwhile, was given his own assistant to go through the necessary paperwork - birth certificate and vaccination records, enrollment forms and contact information - and then both were offered a personalized tour of the building along with an informal discussion of expectations and helpful hints.

"They showed me everything. They told me about everything," said Diego Martinez. "It was very helpful. "

The school has so many transient students during the semester that administrators run the welcome program every Friday, often leading tours of small groups through the building all afternoon.

"We're trying to give them a smooth transition into the classroom," said Emily Hill Larsen, coordinator for the school's $1 million federal Title VII grant that pays for the program. "We also need to know where they are academically."

So each new student is given brief reading, writing and math tests in either English or their native language. "It lets us know where we need to start with the kids, " Larsen said.

Many new immigrants - who hail predominantly from Mexico - may be at grade-level academically but speak no English, so they are best placed in an English-learning program and "survival" English classes.

Others have reasonable verbal skills but holes in both their knowledge and skills, making them suited for the school's dual-language program.

A landscaper who travels between his work in Edwards and his family in Progreso, Mexico, Martinez brought his son back with him to seek a better education.

Daniel has been a "so-so" student, his father said, but he hopes for better in the nurturing environment of Edwards. "I think he'll do fine," Diego Martinez said. "Everyone here is so friendly already."