Oscar Winner Visits Las Americas Newcomers School

In the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel, there is a school where children from 48 different countries and diverse backgrounds come together to learn. Many of the students arrive at the Bialik-Rogozin School fleeing poverty, political adversity, and even genocide. On Monday, Nov. 5, the school’s former principal came to HISD to share the story behind her campus and to hear more about the challenges HISD refugee students face.

“Children, no matter where they are from, want and need the same things,” said Karen Tal who won a 2011 Oscar for her short documentary Strangers No More. “They want to be accepted and they want to be a part of society.” 

Tal addressed a group of district and community leaders while visiting HISD’s Las Americas Newcomers School, which has students from 32 different countries. Nine years ago, the HISD campus was primarily for Hispanic students who spoke little or no English. Now, because of the influx of refugees settling in Houston, the school has children from around the world who speak 29 different languages.

“Just like Karen Tal, we needed to change our thinking and go beyond just teaching these students English,” said Las Americas Principal Marie Moreno. “We really focus on addressing the whole child and that includes their emotional and social needs as well as the challenges they face coming to a new country.”

Moreno, Tal, Shirn Hermon from HISD’s Multi-Lingual Department, and Nicole Ellis from the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees also took part in a panel discussion on the challenges of educating refugee students. 

“Our schools deal with a lot of the same issues as far as levels of education and gaps in different areas,” Herman said. “There are also cultural issues that often can influence education.”

“It’s a group effort to educate and socialize these children and the more community help we have the better,” Ellis said. “Las Americas has spent a lot of time building a partnership with us and with the families of the students they serve.”