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Northeast Catholic school embraces immigrant children

The school offers a "Newcomer Experience", which staff hope to expand so more new immigrants can feel at home.

MINNEAPOLIS — Starting a new life in a new country is a difficult change. For children especially, there's a lot more to adapt to, like a new school and a new language. 

One northeast Minneapolis school is trying to make that transition easier.

Even a school...that's 135 years old has to get with the times. 

"St. John Paul the Second has been around since 1888," Principal Tricia Menzhuber said with a laugh.

A rapidly changing student demographic spurred Menzhuber and her staff to action. 

"We have had an influx of immigrant children, and we love them dearly, but we knew that we weren't doing everything we could to best support them," Menzhuber said. "We devised a creative plan called the newcomer experience, where we can take so many of the accommodations and things we knew worked, and put them into a system so our immigrant children can have the best possible first second, and third years of school."

For second-grader Abril Noreaga who came from Ecuador just a few months ago, school is already a place she prefers. Friends make it an easy choice for her.

"They help her when she doesn't understand," translated school counselor Silvia Ochoa. 

Ochoa, who wears many hats, said she provides social, and emotional support for the kids in transition.

"I check in with the students, mostly newcomers about how they're acclimating to their new environment, how their family is doing--I contact the family as well," Ochoa said.

That's holistic care on top of making sure the kids learn English but also retain their mother tongue.

"Our students here, most of their parents do not speak English, so we don't want them to lose that language or that culture," Ochoa said.

Even a school with just 197 students can make a change.

"There is nothing special we're doing that other schools cannot commit to," Menzhuber said. "As long as they really wanna know their scholars and use best practices, this is something a lot of schools can do, even if they're small like us."

That small change is one that will allow young minds to dream.

"These are beautiful families and children and every school should be ready to welcome them," Menzhuber said.

St. John Paul II has open enrollment so they accept students year-round. Their latest newcomer just enrolled last Monday.

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