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Unfamiliar with American culture or the English language, the students range from the ages of 14 to 19 and come from nations struggling with drought, famine, or war. Many come directly from refugee camps, and some arrive alone, having left or lost every other member of their family. Their stories are poignant and remarkable, and at the center of their combined story is Mr. Williams: the dedicated and endlessly resourceful teacher of their English Language Acquisition class - a class which was created specifically for them and which will provide them with the foundation they need to face the enormous challenges of adapting to life in America.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Amazon Customer on 12-28-17
A great look into the lives of refugee students
Helen provided such a thorough perspective of the lives of the students and those working to serve refugees. I felt like I got to know the students and their families and a bit of the challenge they faced in their home country and in adjusting to the U.S.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
By Ellen V. Moore on 05-23-18
Surprisingly great read.
Book Review: The Newcomers by Helen Thorpe
I just finished The Newcomers by Helen Thorpe. I had put off reading it for no reason I could explain. I guess I thought, how can a book about ELA hook me?
ELA is English Language Acquisition [the old English As a Second Language, ESL] . The answer to how and if ELA can hook the reader, is absolutely “Yes.”
Well, the more precise answer is, Helen Thorpe can hook the reader. Thorpe did so by being ever careful and respectful of the students in the English Language Acquisition class at Denver's South High School. Reading what she wrote was as moving and genuine as a conversation over coffee in a warm kitchen on a snowy Colorado afternoon in April.
Helen Thorpe is a journalist, so she hugs the line between genuine and allowable sentiment and careful observation of subtle behavior of teachers and students and their family members. Thorpe notes the small gestures, she reads the body language of everyone so deftly you feel you are in the presence of a gifted psychiatrist. She's learned and knows the social and political realities of the refugee experience in the United States. She is empathetic without being maudlin.
Some of us are teachers, some parents, and we all were students, so we know, and we come to Helen's book sometimes raw, remembering our own teen years, or raising teenagers. Often the sadness and the injustice, is unbearable. But the students in Room 142 at South HS, in the very earliest language education these 20 students will endure, in life in general and ELA in particular , is often joyous. They make admirable progress, they help one another, and their teacher. Everything seems almost perfectly tuned to be what they need, to move on. Move on, not just upstairs to more difficult work, but move on through racist encounters, hunger of body and soul, sometimes being teachers and speakers for their parents and switching back into their roles as kids in the family, on a dime.
And the African students, cold cold cold all winter long in a Denver winter that takes them and their families by surprise. Helen makes sure to bring in coats from her son's friends without ceremony, hanging them in the classroom's cloakroom for a day, for a moment, that is just right: private and perfect.
Helen Thorpe joins in to classes, helps out, reads stories, picks out just the right book for a student having a hard time. Students who are not even fluent in English are willing to attempt books about well-known athletes and pop stars, and perhaps begin a lifelong habit of reading for pleasure in their leisure time.
Helen Thorpe helps the families of the ELA students deal with Motor Vehicle personnel, and landlords, and public transportation, providing the special help that addresses basic human rights on the ground.
It seems to me this book should find itself in any human rights course at any high school or college. And it convinces me that we need in the United States, a domestic Peace Corps that builds the emotional I.Q. of all our students. This book is for all of us living through an extraordinary refugee crisis, but especially those who plan to work for human rights in the courts as immigration attorneys, or in NGOs dealing with the needs of newcomers and their neighbors, or in our schools as teachers striving to prepare newly-arrived students with the tools to thrive and enjoy their new homeland, and all students, native and new, with an abundance of empathy and insight.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful