Charter school offers path to immigrant students

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Inside of the Latino community, especially among the youth, reasons are often found or excuses made for one to drop out of school and not continue on the path toward a better future. For some Latino youth, the immediate benefits of getting a job are more important than working toward the goal of someday becoming a professional. The investment one has to make to obtain an education is a sacrifice, but one that, with the passing of time, gives a great deal of satisfaction in a constantly changing world full of challenges.

Lighthouse Academy of Nations is an educational institution that provides young immigrant and refugee students with the opportunity to learn English through intensive language instruction. With its focus on teaching in English, the Academy seeks to integrate its students into the community and encourage them to pursue higher education and become responsible citizens. The vision of the funders of the school is that the students learn their value as human beings and how to manage themselves emotionally, spiritually, and academically. They want the students to dream big and have the skills they need to be able to reach those dreams.

The learning program at Lighthouse Academy could be described as structured English language immersion, meaning that the students will be taught only in English, but at a level that is appropriate for them. The curriculum focuses on social studies, mathematics, and science as the primary subjects to which the students will devote their time. So as students become proficient in English, they will also learn about other subjects. Lighthouse Academy follows the requirements specified by the Academic Standards of Minnesota, so once the students have completed their studies and are competent at the required levels they can graduate with a high school diploma.

Lighthouse Academy of Nations has recognized and respects the cultural, religious, and language needs of it students and their families. Consequently, the method of instruction used by the Academy has been effective with several different ethnic groups. Staff members at the school are highly qualified and multilingual, and many are of the same ethnicity and come from backgrounds similar to the students. So, even though classes are taught strictly in English, the students have the opportunity to speak to someone who understands their language and culture. In this kind of environment the students can feel more comfortable and are able to preserve their own culture and language while learning English and integrating into American culture.

The typical school day at the Academy runs from 7:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., with a half-hour break. Students begin the day with breakfast and advising appointments, with Academy staff serving as advisors to the students. Afterwards, class periods usually run 50 minutes long, although 100 minutes are dedicated to laboratory science and teamwork in different disciplines. Each class is taught, on average, about two times a week.

Fadua Pastrano, the coordinator of educational communication, helps to motivate, advise, and orient young Latinos at Lighthouse Academy to achieve their personal educational goals. Fadua dedicates most of her time to the group in order to improve their performance and help them believe that they have the ability to choose their own future. Juan Carlos Rogel Pedroza, Agustin Farias Ventura, Abisai Garcia Valdes, Irais Cordova, and Francisco Antonio Morales form part of this group of students that attend Lighthouse Academy.

After a quick tour of the school, we had the opportunity to listen to the comments of these students and discuss the sacrifices one must make in working toward a college degree or going to technical school. But it is clear these students are looking for more than just learning the English language. They can see far beyond the horizon and are prepared to begin building a better future for themselves. According to academic director Phil Ledermann, “We know that continued attendance, strong effort, and good behavior of the student (added to our large expectations, respect for all, individual attention for the students and clear and respectful communication with the parents), maintaining small groups, and a clean and safe environment is a clear recipe for achieving success.”

It is important to mention that Lighthouse Academy offers a free education for students living in the Twin Cities and metropolitan area. For more information about this excellent alternative school, also known as a charter school, you can visit them in person at 2600 26th Avenue South in Minneapolis or call Fadua Pastrano at 612-722-2555, ext. 114. Enrollment is open to youth between the ages of 13 and 20 years.

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