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Perspective | Dreaming big for Sylvia Mendez Newcomers School’s first year

Editor’s Note: The embedded video is produced by Carol Bono, communications manager and lead storyteller at LatinxEd.

In late June 2021, I was appointed as principal for the new Sylvia Mendez Newcomers School in High Point, North Carolina. I assumed my first dream principalship with a great sense of responsibility and pride, because this is the second school of its kind in the Guilford County School system and is among only a few in the state. 

Newcomers’ schools play a crucial role in assisting students in developing their confidence and sense of self in their new home country. This is the place where students get their first taste of the American educational experience. Students stay in this program for a school year, or typically two semesters, while teachers with a strong knowledge base in second language acquisition work collaboratively to stimulate maximum student language proficiency growth and prepare them to successfully transition to their home schools. This enables multilingual learners to gradually become adjusted to their life in the United States while being exposed to rigorous academic instruction, learning English, and celebrating their own cultural roots.

The idea of developing a “dream” theme for this school year came to me as I was thinking about my first encounter with Doris Henderson Newcomer School in Greensboro. It was August 2008, and I had just moved from Wake to Guilford County to teach middle school ESL. Once a month, ESL professional development sessions were held at Newcomers’ School in Greensboro. I recalled my first time there when I toured the building alone and absorbed firsthand the magic that stemmed from the students’ remarkable diversity. I was in awe of the purposeful instruction and guidance from teachers. That day, as I was leaving the building, I began to dream about the idea of one day becoming the principal of a school like Doris Henderson Newcomers.

One of my tasks was to determine a theme for our first year that would motivate and engage my students and staff and inspire our collective vision.

This “dream” idea was still in my mind, getting stronger and more vivid as I began to research. I discovered “Dream Big, Dream Passionately, But Simply Dream,” by Anthony Augugliaro, a featured educator with TED Talks. Auguguliaro argues that, “We need dreamers, we need passionate change, and that only comes with people who have a big vision.” I could see how dreaming ties into goal-setting and establishing a strong vision, both skills from which students and staff could benefit.

I continued looking for themed resources and discovered that “DREAM” is an acronym that stands for Dedication, Responsibility, Education, Attitude, and Motivation. These words describe actions and traits that apply to both staff and students’ best practices. I could not help but think about how I could use these words to energize my staff by having them shout out each of these words. I could see the multiple, lasting, positive effects of teaching these words to our newcomer students to develop self-efficacy and character. 

Next came the thought of having the word “DREAM” posted in different languages throughout the building to reflect the rich linguistic diversity of the school’s student body and staff. I felt the idea of gaining momentum. I ran into inspirational quotes that built upon the idea — “When you dream big, the sky is the limit,” “Lots of little steps make big dreams,” and Walt Disney’s famous, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I visualized bulletin boards with all these quotes. 

Most of all, I thought about significance of the word “dream” for our children and families. I could not stop thinking about those children coming from different latitudes, many of them running away from areas of turmoil and pursuing the dream of moving to the United States. I also thought about our Dreamers, our DACA recipients who have grown up as Americans, identifying themselves as Americans, many of whom only speak English and have no memory of, or connection with, the country where they were born.

As a school administrator, I feel the urgent need to be a dream-builder for my students. In fact, the Sylvia Mendez Newcomers School is a dream, because it is the first public school in North Carolina to be named after someone of Latinx descent. It is also a dream for the community of High Point as students will see their transportation time reduced by more than half the time it takes now.

Due to unforeseen delays in construction caused by the pandemic, the school is now slated to open by the end of the first semester of 2023. As I plan for the 2022-2023 school year, on the day of the opening staff meeting, I will share with my staff my leadership story, which is packed with dreams that I had. I moved to the United States, became a citizen, and obtained my first principalship at a newcomer school. That dream came true only because of my resilience and hard work.  I will make strong call to my staff to “DREAM:” to show dedication, responsibility, education, attitude, and motivation.

I will plead with them to become dream-builders for our students by showing them all the different opportunities in this country and that dreams can be attained. It takes an education and affirmative, positive steps. Sylvia Mendez Newcomers School will be where dreams take off.

Christian Walter

Christian Walter serves Guilford County Schools as principal at the Sylvia Mendez Newcomers School, which is projected to open by the end of the first semester in 2023. Walter is a 2021 LatinxEd Fellow. Prior to that, he was assistant principal at Western Guilford Middle School for four years.

Carol Bono

Carol Bono is the Communications Manager of LatinxEd and an award-winning bilingual multimedia storyteller.