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Support for highly intelligent ESL high schooler


amerikanets July 1, 2013

I am the older brother (20) of a 14 year old girl who will be starting high school in the fall. My family is moving to a town in Pennsylvania right before then. We are Russian immigrants coming from Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, and all the other members of my family, including my sister, have only basic/intermediate English skills. My sister is an extremely gifted student, particularly in math and science, and attended prestigious schools back in Russia. However, her English is at a low intermediate level at best. There is no way that she will be able to understand normal coursework in English, much less advanced coursework. However, she is so intelligent that I do not want her to be held back by attending a less than great school. (I have heard that the local schools are mediocre, but we cannot afford a better community.) Is there any possibility of us finding a private school that would accept her? What are some other possibilites?

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TeacherParent July 3, 2013

You don't say what Pennsylvania town - I'm in Pennsylvania and, depending on the town, maybe I could offer some hope that the schools in your new town are not as bad as you've heard. Is there a Russian-speaking community in the town to which you're moving? If there is, they might be able to give you the best advice about the schools.

Small Pennsylvania towns don't usually have private schools - sometimes they will have small 'faith-based' private schools but private schools are more often found in and near large cities. I'm assuming your hope is for a 'day school' - not a boarding school where your sister would have to live. There is a guide which lists all the private schools in the U.S. and you could find that guide at a public library - its author is Jerry Mintz - I'm blanking on the title but it's easy to find.

Sometimes there are private boarding schools in small towns and they do accept 'day students' - students who do not live at the school but come every day for classes. And private schools sometimes do offer scholarships to deserving students.

But - your sister's difficulty with English will present itself at a private school. There are some private schools that accept international students - and help them with their English language skills but those would all be boarding schools, not day schools.

Scattergood Friends is a private boarding schools that accepts many international students. Sometimes in a small town the Catholic school system can offer a better education than the public schools. There are also cyber schools - and there she could work at her own pace. Pennsylvania has a state-wide cyber school that might even be free. If I can find the link for it, I'll post back.

IF she ends up in a public school, ask that they put her in advanced math courses. In the meantime, she should spend her time learning English - bright kids don't like cartoons but watching them is a good way to learn English.

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