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WUNC reports from Greensboro about Guilford County and surrounding area.

Cultures Converge at Newcomers School

Abu, from Africa, smiles in the ''Giving Closet'' at the Newcomers School in Greensboro
Jeff Tiberii

The Doris Henderson Newcomers School in Greensboro is a melting pot. Since August of 2007 the school has welcomed about 3,000 students from around the world who are transitioning to a life in America while learning English. Seventy-five percent of the students are refugees and the challenges facing them are numerous.

Curious eyes, innocent smiles and the shuffling of feet. Three things you would expect at any school across the state, and the Doris Henderson Newcomers School is no different. With diagrams of the digestive system outside of one classroom and artwork hanging in the hallways, this is your typical school. It feels ordinary, until you stop and talk with the students.

Students Hugh, Rosaria and Abu:" I am Hugh, I’m from Vietnam … My name is Rosaria and I’m from Puerto Rico … Hi my name is Abu Jeff: And what language was that? Abu: That was Mandingo."

The Newcomers school has about 300 students representing more than 30 different nations and cultures worldwide. They stay at the school for one year before moving to a mainstream classroom. Some speak as many as 10 languages. Most have never seen snow and virtually all of them are experiencing their first American Holiday season. They often come from unstable countries and many have witnessed violence.

Angela Catone: "They come from places of war and ethnic persecution and also just moving and leaving behind your culture and way of life to something totally different is a loss and a big stress."

Social Worker Angela Catone says she deals with a lot of mental health issues and socio-economic challenges with the students and their families. The Newcomers school partners with UNC-Greensboro to provide group and individual counseling for children. The kids also need help getting caught up in the classroom. Curriculum Facilitator Susan Buchholz says there is a wide range in the student’s abilities.

Susan Buchholz: "We have some fifth graders coming in from different countries barely knowing how to count using their fingers in their language; so trying to do translations and multiplication and division – that is a great challenge."

Buchholz, also known as Mrs. ‘B’, grew up in Korea and is fluent in her native language. The Newcomers School has interpreters speaking Nepali, Burmese, Vietnamese and Spanish. But of course that doesn’t cover everything.

Olivier: "… My name is Olivier, I’m from Africa Me: What else have you learned at the Newcomers school? Olivier: I’ve learned some ABC’s and some math some English and to draw and to be nice to each other."

Olivier is a third grader from Tanzania. Buchholz says when he arrived at the school he was malnourished and didn’t say a word.

Buchholz: "He wouldn’t really look people in the eye. We kind of had to kind him and hold his hand form place to place. Now he is identified as one of the talkers. He loves to volunteer answers in the classroom. He also plays great with all of the kids."

The Newcomers School has classes of elementary, middle and high school students. A local church serves as the surrogate P.T.A. There is a large room in the school called the ‘giving closet’. It’s where students can get clothes, school supplies and food. It’s all provided through donations, and organized by volunteers. On this afternoon a former student has come back to help out.

Kwizeria Jesusmaria: "Hi, my name is Kwizeria Jesusmaria"

His name means faith, or belief. Today Kwizeria (Quiz-eera) Jesusmaria (J-zee-marie) is now a junior at the Early/Middle College in Guilford County. His parents were both murdered during the Rwanda Genocide when he was 18 months old. After living in ‘at least seven’ African Nations he came to the Newcomers school in 2009.

Jesusmaria: "The Newcomers School helped me a lot because it was my first time being in class. For all my entire life I had never been in school before. But when I came here, there were caring teachers who were willing to help me."

Jesusmaria plans to attend community college after high school. To date, more than a dozen students who began their American Education at the Newcomers school have moved on to college.

Jeff Tiberii is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Jeff joined WUNC in 2011. During his 20 years in public radio, he was Morning Edition Host at WFDD and WUNC’s Greensboro Bureau Chief and later, the Capitol Bureau Chief. Jeff has covered state and federal politics, produced the radio documentary “Right Turn,” launched a podcast, and was named North Carolina Radio Reporter of the Year four times.
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