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New Elmhurst charter targets immigrants learning English

Photo by Rebecca Henely
By Rebecca Henely

Bringing recent immigrant children to the United States up to the same learning levels as their American-born counterparts has always been a struggle across the city, but a new charter school in Elmhurst hopes to meet their unique needs.

The Central Queens Academy Charter School, at 55-30 Junction Blvd., plans to begin teaching its first fifth-grade class Aug. 27. More than 70 percent of the 100-strong incoming class will be made up of those for whom English is not their primary language.

“The mission of Central Queens Academy is really to improve educational outcomes for recent immigrant youth and English language learners,” said Suyin So, executive director for the school.

The city Department of Education said of the children in the public school system, 14 percent are learning English and 13 percent were former learners who have become proficient in English, meaning about one in four students enter the city’s public school system primarily speaking another language.

So said the school was the brainchild of a working group of a number of Queens-based community organizations aimed at helping immigrants, mostly from Asian countries. They wanted to build the school in District 24, which encompasses Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale, Sunnyside, Elmhurst, most of Corona and parts of Jackson Heights and Woodside.

There is a large Asian community in Elmhurst and South Asian community in Jackson Heights.

“District 24 is home to some of the most crowded schools,” So said. “It’s also home to some of the most interesting and complex neighborhoods and communities.”

Central Queens Academy was formed in partnership with APEX, an organization that serves young Asian immigrants in the city, and Principal Stacy Gauthier, of the Renaissance Charter School, at 35-59 81st St. in Jackson Heights, gave support.

“There’s not a lot of charter schools, period, in Queens, so it was a really interesting experience to be dealing with a lot of newness,” So said.

The school will serve fifth- to eighth-grade students for now, adding a grade each year, although So said the administration hopes the school can become a fifth-through-12th-grade institution in the future.

Central Queens Academy’s school day will begin at 8 a.m. and end at 4 p.m., with after-school classes going on until 6 p.m.

So said the longer school day will allow for longer literacy and math classes as well as a social/emotional learning session early in the day. Growing literacy is infused throughout the curriculum, teaching children not just spoken English but how to use it in a school setting to employ reasoning and academic writing.

“The main premise is literacy and it’s not a program that’s solely designed for English language learners,” So said. “It’s designed for a comprehensive education.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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