The International Academy is a special program within T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia designed especially for recent immigrants. Our students are learning the English language while working towards an on-time high school graduation to prepare them for college and careers. We are a departure from traditional ELL (English language learner) programs where students are placed in classes based on their current level of English proficiency and therefore often spend years of schooling not earning credits they can use towards graduation. Here with us, our students are heterogeneously mixed into credit bearing classes, thus accelerating their learning of academic English while studying a rigorous curriculum of content. Our students engage in project-based learning while collaborating in groups with diverse levels of language proficiency and native languages.
The Internationals Network for Public Schools
We are one of eighteen member schools in the Internationals Network for Public Schools, INPS, based in New York City. All INPS schools are based on a model emphasizing heterogeneity and collaboration, experiential learning, language and content integration, localized autonomy and responsibility, and one learning model for all. The INPS model has produced graduation rates for ELL students more than double the rate for ELL students in traditional school settings in the New York City public school system.
For more information about INPS, please visit internationalsnps.org
Bringing the INPS model to T.C. Williams was a grassroots effort led by a team of staff dedicated to improving outcomes for Alexandria’s growing immigrant student population. Bethany Nickerson, Danielle Wierzbicki, and Susannah Courand first learned of the INPS model in 2009. After years of research, planning, and collaboration with INPS staff, T.C. Williams High School teachers, and the Alexandria City Public Schools Office of English Language Learners, the International Academy went live in September of 2012 with its first cohort of students, about 200 ninth grade students – class of 2016. We were so proud to see so many of those students learn and grow over the course of four short years to graduate on June 18, 2016!
This 2016-2017 school year marks our fifth year as a program now focused on continuous improvement and sustainability after achieving such great success with our first graduating class. Just as it has been, our juniors and seniors continue to be placed in accelerated classes amongst their own cohort while our sophomores and freshmen have a different experience. In almost all of their classes, 9th and 10th graders work alongside each other. This provides our sophomores the opportunity to develop leadership and communication skills while exposing our freshmen to our collaborative and rigorous instructional model with the support of their peers.
Another touchstone of our program is our 11th grade internship class. This will be our third year sending our juniors to participate in internships around the city of Alexandria. For many of our students, this is their first time learning important job skills that require them to utilize their ever-improving English. These experiences help prepare them for success when they must write college essays and apply for scholarships and universities in their 12th grade English class. With every new cohort of students, we are enlivened by a new sense of excitement for the future!