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Personalized Instruction, Attention to Cultural Issues Help Hamtramck Students, Parents Achieve Academic Success

Every morning, as students arrive at Frontier International Academy, a charter middle/ high school in Hamtramck, principal Dr. Harun Rashid makes a point to greet his kids.  He shakes their hands, calls them by name, stops to talk to them -- all of them. That includes the young man wearing a tether, the kid who speaks only his native Bosnian, and the 14-year-old who reads at kindergarten level.

“They need to see that we care about them,” Rashid said. “Some of these are kids who have been left out all of their lives. They think no one cares about them.”

The school opened in response to pressing need in Hamtramck, the former Polish Detroit-area enclave that has undergone profound economic and population change. Many parents new to America “do not send their children to high school. They make them sit home,” said Mohamed Issa, president of Ann Arbor-based Global Educational Excellence, Frontier’s management company. “They cannot accept the culture.”

About one third of students at Frontier are Arabic; one third are Bengali; another 15 percent are from Bosnia, Croatia and Poland; the final 15 percent are African-American.

At Frontier, Arabic is taught in all grades. Strict discipline policies, character education and uniforms help show the school is in order and students are safe.  English-as–a-second-language (ESL) instruction is a staple.

“We pay attention to content but also objectives -- reading, writing, speaking and listening,” Rashid said. “ Each hour, we must be sure all of the language objectives are met.”

Frontier also reaches students through differentiated instruction, because “one size does not fit all. We make accommodations and adaptations for every student” — all 300, he said.   “When people ask, ‘Who needs accommodation?’ I say, ‘Everybody.’”

One student is on probation and has been in and out of jail. But, Rashid says, “We have a contract with him and now, he’s passing his classes. We take these at-risk kids, work with them one-on-one -- our social worker, assistant principal and myself -- and monitor their progress.”

The efforts have helped Frontier achieve the Michigan Department of Education’s Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks — a major accomplishment, considering nearly 500 Michigan high schools failed to do so.

Importantly, Frontier’s work doesn’t end with students.  Parents have their own lounge for coffee and working together, as well as their own ESL and computer classes.

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