Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School’s (FACTS) request for a Charter Amendment received a positive vote from the School Reform Commission on Thursday evening. The decision will allow FACTS to expand its impact in serving immigrant and refugee students in a diversely rich school environment. The need for welcoming, safe, supportive spaces for immigrants and refugees has never been greater. The charter amendment will allow this National Blue Ribbon School to serve more students, create a new middle school program for beginning ESOL students, and use a weighted lottery to give some preference to students who need ESOL services.
FACTS launched its effort to start a Newcomer Program for middle school students because newly arrived English Learners (ELs) in these grades face unique challenges, and no such dedicated program currently exists in Philadelphia. Newly arrived 6-8 grade ELs have a short timeframe for gaining academic English language proficiency before high school, college, and career. In addition to learning social and academic English, newcomer ELs must acclimate to U.S. school environments that are often very different from those in their countries of origin. It is critical, then, to provide newcomer ELs with the academic, cultural, linguistic and social-emotional supports that will position them for future success–success that can improve the life chances for students and their families.
FACTS was founded on the idea that the students, staff and families of our school are cultural treasures, that they are resources and sources of knowledge. Too often children, especially children living in poverty, immigrant and refugee children, children of color are asked to check their home cultures, their community knowledge and community ways of knowing at the door of the school house. In contrast, FACTS seeks to reduce the home/school divide by welcoming and valuing students’ home cultures as part of our regular teaching practice.
Many organizations supported FACTS’s expansion application, including the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, La Puerta Abierta (The Open Door), Children’s Village, The Arab-American Community Development Corporation, the Pennsylvania Migrant Education Program, and Chinatown community association leaders.
In September 2016, the U.S. Secretary of Education named the Folk Arts–Cultural Treasures Charter School (FACTS) a National Blue Ribbon School, affirming FACTS’ belief that schools can nurture the whole child, invest time in community-building, provide an arts-rich education while at the same time educating our students to the highest standard.