International flags flutter from the ceilings of the outdoor hallways at Valencia Newcomer School, where more than 200 children from around the world are learning English skills and American classroom customs they need to succeed.
When the school year begins, the refugee and immigrant children often don’t know the rules. A kid might be fascinated with a light switch they excitedly turn off and on. Another is startled by a whistle or a helicopter buzzing overhead that recalls conflict back home.
But fears melt away as the kids adjust, said Valencia Principal Lynette Faulkner, who calls the school their “safe place.” Soon, they stand in line, raise their hand, keep their feet on floor. As they learn English, students make friends across cultures.
Since fall 2018, the public school has welcomed students from countries including Myanmar, Eritrea, Indonesia, Afghanistan and Cuba for an extra year of attention before transferring to mainstream schools. This year’s kindergarten through eighth-grade students come from 21 countries and speak 15 languages.
Valencia is among a handful of U.S. public schools dedicated to helping some of the thousands of children who arrive in the country each year, even as the Trump administration has proposed pushing down the annual cap for refugees to a historic low of 18,000. No refugees were settled in the U.S. last month.
The schools aren’t necessarily in cities with more refugees, but where local education officials took the initiative to create them. Similar schools are in Indianapolis; Houston; Fort Worth, Texas; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Providence, Rhode Island.
Arizona ranks eighth among states for refugee resettlement. The number plunged from 4,110 people in fiscal year 2016 to 998 in 2018, then rose slightly to 1,216 for the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30. About half are kids.
Gov. Doug Ducey hasn’t weighed in yet on President Donald Trump’s executive order allowing states and cities to reject refugees. At least five states have signaled they will accept refugees, and no governor has said they plan to keep them out. Several agencies sued last week seeking to halt the order.
“There may be less, but they’re still coming,” Valencia teacher Kristine Jones said. “And we have to be there for them, whether it’s academically or getting them services like immunizations.”
It’s unclear if the lower cap on refugees will affect already limited funding for school districts from the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Refugee School Impact Program.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security last year distributed about $635,000 to help 1,026 school-age refugees statewide with things like interpretation, tutoring and school supplies.
Immigrants and other children newly arrived from abroad can attend newcomer schools if they need help with basic English, including those born in the U.S., taken out of the country and returned.
“As long as you have kids struggling with English, there will always be a place for these kinds of programs,” said Deborah Short, a Washington-based English learning specialist who has written about newcomer education. She noted some mainstream schools have newcomer classrooms.
Rebecca Kawa, 10, didn’t learn English at the refugee camp in Uganda where she was born and spent most of her life, studying in a classroom with up to 200 students. But she needed no interpreter after only two months at Valencia.
“I like this school because they teach you English, and you learn it fast,” said the daughter of Congolese refugees.
There are often huge challenges for children who trudged across several countries, lived in camps or witnessed extreme violence.
Refugee and other immigrant children who lose a home or parent can suffer from toxic stress, a term used by child development experts for the body’s response to long-term adversity, said Sarah Smith, senior director of education for the nonprofit International Rescue Committee.
“Infants might cry for long periods of time,” Smith said. “Children in school might have a hard time concentrating.”
Newcomer school teachers and social workers strive to ensure children get the social and emotional time they need to talk through feelings and make new friends. Valencia social worker Michelle Frias said that over the last year, she’s referred about 10 kids to psychologists for extra care.
At Valencia, the day starts with teachers greeting students as they step off the buses. Samuel Lavi, a teaching assistant from Congo who speaks seven languages, is the first to give each kid a hug or high-five.
“My most important role is to make sure the students get what they’re supposed to get,” he said.
Inside the classrooms, brightly colored letters adorn the walls. Small groups of children face each other at round tables as they listen to an instructor trained to teach English to non-native speakers. They also have math, art, music and physical education.
Outside, kindergartners with plastic jugs water the flower and vegetable gardens built with materials donated by the Arizona Cardinals football team. The Diamondbacks baseball club paid to spruce up the school before it opened and donated trees.
Faulkner, the Valencia principal, said the Alhambra School District looked into newcomer programs after seeing new arrivals struggle to meet state English language standards. She visited Las Americas newcomer school in Houston.
Las Americas has some 400 students in fourth through eighth grades who come from up to 32 countries and speak 29 languages, Principal Marie Moreno said.
“We wanted to provide them a space where they can get grounded, whenever they feel traumatized or whenever they remember something from the past,” Moreno said as she showed off the school’s “peace garden.”
“We try to support them by helping them understand where they came from and where we want them to go,” she said.
Associated Press videographer John Mone contributed reporting from Houston.
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UNC shooting victim who was hailed a hero honored with ‘Star Wars’ character
Howell’s heroic efforts saved people’s lives, police said at the time.December 25, 2019, 1:33 PM4 min read Riley Howell, who was hailed a hero for sacrificing his life to protect others in the shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has been honored with a “Star Wars” character that was named after him.…
Riley Howell, who was hailed a hero for sacrificing his life to protect others in the shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has been honored with a “Star Wars” character that was named after him.
Howell was killed on April 30 when a gunman opened fire inside one of the school’s buildings. He helped take the gunman off his feet and, in doing so, saved lives, police said at the time.
Howell’s legacy will carry on with the character, Ri-Lee Howell, who is a Jedi master and historian, according to “The Rise of Skywalker” visual dictionary, which was released on Dec. 20, the same day the latest film in the franchise came out.
The Jedi are described as guardians “of peace and justice” and “protectors united by their ability to harness the power of the Force,” according to Wookieepedia, a fan-run Stars Wars encyclopedia.
Lauren Westmoreland, Howell’s girlfriend, said Monday that the character was the perfect tribute for him.
“Riley is the biggest fan of Star Wars that I’ve ever known, ever since he was little!!!!!” Westmoreland posted on the video-sharing TikTok app.
“Thank you for giving my love this best Christmas gift this year and making him part of the Star Wars universe forever,” the post continued.
The video included baby photos of Howell playing with “Star Wars” figurines.
Howell was credited with taking the assailant “off his feet” during the shooting, allowing officers to step in and apprehend him, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said at the time.
Without him, “the assailant may not have been disarmed,” according to Putney.
“His sacrifice saved lives,” Putney said.
Another student, Ellis Parlier, 19, was also killed in the shooting and four more were wounded.
Memorial service to be held for slain teen to remember her ‘light’
In lieu of flowers, Blanchard’s family asks guests to donate to charities. December 21, 2019, 9:07 PM7 min read A memorial service was held for Aniah Blanchard on Saturday in Alabama, where relatives and loved ones remembered the “light” she brought to their lives. The ceremony at the Faith Chapel Christian Center in Birmingham was…
In lieu of flowers, Blanchard’s family asks guests to donate to charities.
December 21, 2019, 9:07 PM
7 min read
A memorial service was held for Aniah Blanchard on Saturday in Alabama, where relatives and loved ones remembered the “light” she brought to their lives.
The ceremony at the Faith Chapel Christian Center in Birmingham was a “celebration of life.”
The church was filled with dozens of Blanchard’s family, friends and members of her hometown of Homewood, where she attended their public schools and played high school softball.
Most of the mourners wore Blanchard’s favorite color, baby blue, which “fit her personality — bright, big and vast as the ocean,” a member of Homewood High School’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps said during their alternated flag-folding ceremony in her honor.
“It’s easy for me to talk about Aniah, she is my mini-me…I gave birth to her on my birthday,” said Blanchard’s heartbroken mother Angela Haley Harris. “She is the greatest gift to me.”
“This memorial service is a celebration of Aniah’s life and to commemorate who Aniah was and the impact her life and ‘light’ is having on the entire world,” according to the Facebook event page created for the service.
“Aniah was light, she made you feel okay when you look in her eyes,” said Noah Wail, Blanchard’s godbrother.
“She was my person I would talk to when I needed someone,” he added, wiping away a tear before playing a guitar tribute to the Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts The Most.”
Blanchard was studying early childhood education at Southern Union College with hopes of transferring to Auburn University.
“Aniah had a light that you wanted to be around. The light she had every day of her life is still here and is still being shared,” said Hannah Haley, Blanchard’s cousin.
“Aniah is my biggest fan. She would always tell me when it came to my career it will be okay, you gotta keep going,” said Walt Harris, Blanchard’s stepfather and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter. “So now I have to go strong for the other kids…Glad to have her in my life and how she had an impact on my life.”
Amy Letson, one of Blanchard’s softball coaches, shared an anecdote of that showed “Aniah’s beautiful spirit.” After a game, Blanchard told the losing team that “she was proud of them and she could tell they worked very hard,” Letson recalled.
“Together we learned to work together, work hard and be kind to others,” read Blanchard’s younger sister, Aylah, with her two older brothers by her side. “We are so happy you are our sissy.”
Bill Cleveland, superintendent of Homewood Public Schools, announced establishing a scholarship that will be made in Blanchard’s honor to continue the her legacy.
The family requested that in lieu of flowers, all donations be made in Blanchard’s name to: The Texas Equusearch Group, Children’s Hospital of Alabama or the Birmingham Human Society, in honor of her beloved dog “Blue.”
Throughout the over two-hour service, dozens of photographs from Blanchard’s life were displayed in a slideshow along with videos of her smile that brought comfort and peace, mourners said.
Blanchard was last seen at a convenience store in Auburn, Alabama, on Oct. 23. She was allegedly abducted by Ibraheem Yazeed, who authorities say shot her when she “went for the gun,” according to court documents.
The 19-year-old’s body was found shot to death on Nov. 25, approximately 36 miles away in a wooded area in Shorter.
A tipster led police to Yazeed, who was in Pensacola, Florida, authorities said. He was already out on $295,000 bond for a separate kidnapping case from January in Montgomery, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
Yazeed, 30, is being charged with two counts of capital murder charges in connection with Blanchard’s death. Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty.
David Johnson Jr., 63, and Antwon Fisher, 35, were also charged in connection to Blanchard’s murder, though Fisher’s charges were dropped this week because of “legal and jurisdictional grounds,” Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes confirmed to ABC News on Saturday.
Johnson Jr., 63, is charged with hindering prosecution.
“The investigation into the murder of Aniah Blanchard is still ongoing and we will continue to evaluate and exhaust all leads in the pursuit of justice for Aniah and her family,” Hughes said.
Couple married at same Dunkin’ where their love splintered nearly 30 years ago
A Massachusetts couple were married at the same Dunkin’ Donuts where their young love splintered nearly 30 years agoDecember 28, 2019, 9:33 PM2 min readWORCESTER, Mass. — A Massachusetts couple reunited for extra-sweet wedding vows at the same Dunkin’ Donuts where their young love splintered nearly 30 years ago. Valerie Sneade and Jason Roy were…
WORCESTER, Mass. —
A Massachusetts couple reunited for extra-sweet wedding vows at the same Dunkin’ Donuts where their young love splintered nearly 30 years ago.
Valerie Sneade and Jason Roy were married Friday afternoon, joined by family, friends and customers buying coffee and pastries at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Grafton Street in Worcester.
“It had to happen here,” Roy, who works for the Worcester Parks Department, told the Telegram & Gazette during an earlier interview.
“We think it’s an absolute riot,” said singer and actress Sneade, who is now taking the name Valerie Roy. “Has anybody been married in Dunkin’ Donuts before? Maybe we’ll start a trend.”
Sneade and Roy mostly didn’t see each other for 25 years after a conversation about their future at the same shop in 1992 led the young, in-love couple to step back from their relationship. Sneade blames misunderstandings at the time and words that didn’t come out right.
Roy joined the Navy, married and had three children. Sneade also had a first marriage and moved to Florida. She became a singer and actress, developing her own cabaret shows. Both later divorced.
“I wouldn’t want to change a thing that happened,” Sneade said. “Jason has three beautiful children who he adores. I had a different way to give to the world through music.”
When Roy learned Sneade was performing a Valentine’s Day-themed musical revue in Worcester in February 2018, he showed up and sat in the front row.
“I looked out almost like a deer in the headlights,” Sneade said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ ”
Three months later, she moved back to Massachusetts. Roy proposed that New Year’s Eve.
“I think we’re going to appreciate each other more so much later in life because every day is a blessing,” Sneade said. “I can’t imagine my life without him.”