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IPS Newcomer School prepares immigrant, refugee students

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A school on Indianapolis’ west side is helping more than 300 immigrant and refugee students who have recently arrived in the United States enter the classroom. The Newcomer Program recently received a grant to complete a reset room where students can focus on their emotional and social well-being. Equipped with a sound machine, dim lighting and adult coloring books, the reset room is meant to be a space for students to go and emotionally reset if needed. The reset room is a part of Newcomer’s larger mission of centering students. 

The Newcomer Program started about seven years ago, Principal Kelli Lovingfoss said. The program is based at Northwest Middle School and takes students in grades seven through 10 two days a week. Some students have no records or transcripts, so regardless of age, they are enrolled as freshmen. 

Former student Claudia Arteaga said Newcomer provided her with a platform and inspired motivation to make her dreams a reality. Arteaga was born and raised in Mexico. She emigrated to the U.S. six years ago with her family when she was 18. She began her educational journey at Newcomer before transitioning to Arsenal Tech High School. She later earned her bachelor’s degree. Now, she helps students learning English with their dreams as an English as a second language (ESL) college & career readiness coordinator through Indianapolis Public Schools.

“Being a Newcomer former student is the best thing that could ever happened to me since I arrived at this country six years ago,” Arteaga said. “Newcomer provided me with a platform on which I could start learning not only the language, but also the education system and cultural diversity. Most importantly, I discovered the potential to achieve any goal I set my mind to.”

Arteaga is one of the many students who wish they could return to Newcomer after they complete the program.

The program represents students from more than 20 countries and 12 different languages, including Spanish, Haitian Creole, Swahili and French. Students stay in the program anywhere between six to 18 months. 

Newcomer welcomes students quickly after their arrival in the U.S., Lovingfoss said. As a part of an agreement with Immigration, students under 18 have to enroll in school as soon as possible. 

A typical student at Newcomer has been in the U.S. anywhere between two weeks and three months. 

“My teachers are all very adept at essentially restating expectations and procedures on almost a daily basis, simply because they have new students joining their classes almost every single day,” said Lovingfoss. “That’s atypical. That’s not something that your average teacher would have to do or be prepared to do. We just have very strong processes and procedures in place here to make sure that every student is getting, as close as we can manage, the same experience.” 

Newcomer also has two large donation rooms filled with clothing and food. About 55% of staff at Newcomer is bilingual and leverages support for district liaison when there are language barriers.  

Students and staff regularly engage in community circles to engage students in small talk and create a proactive environment, Lovingfoss said. 

“I think that our program is invaluable,” Lovingfoss said. “Just the overall adjustment to a new country, a new experience, the Newcomer runs the gamut … We very often have students return to Newcomer and say, ‘Can I please come back here? I don’t want to be at my new school. It’s not like Newcomer.’ That’s obviously heartbreaking for us. We would love to be able to keep them for longer. I wish we had a chance to acclimate.” 

Lovingfoss said she would love to see the program expand in the future. 

“I think there’s just a tremendous need in the community. I think that these populations in a lot of ways are underserved … it’s something that we have seen tremendous benefit.” 

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett at 317-762-7847. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay.

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