Mission: To build a better life for our students by creating an environment of high academic achievement while preserving Hmong culture and literacy.
Vision: To close the achievement gap and be recognized as one of the top ten charter schools in Minnesota.
“How do we build a school that supports and respects the Hmong culture and promotes and preserves that, while at the same time understanding we have to give our children and our students the support to succeed within the educational system?”
This is the question that, in 2005, a group of educators in the Twin Cities asked themselves. The result? New Millennium Academy, a free, open-enrollment K-8 school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their mission and vision highlight the true uniqueness of the school and its administration, teachers’, and students’ commitment to academic excellence.
This charter school has some statistics that seem at once both daunting and impressive. Of its 450 students:
- 98% identify as Hmong by heritage
- 87% are English Language Learners
- Over 85% qualify for free or reduced lunch
New Millennium Academy was a Focus School for two years before becoming a Celebration School, which is designated by the Minnesota Department of Education as an indication of successfully working towards closing the achievement gap.
We were fortunate enough to visit this remarkable school and sit down with Amy Erickson, Director of Teaching and Learning and Kao Yang, IT Administrator to talk about NMA, it’s students, and how they set and reach goals.
Using VariQuest Visuals to Aid English Language Learners
At New Millennium Academy, classes are taught in English, but with a structure that is specifically designed to help English Language Learners. Erickson’s answer to our question, “What sort of visuals are most effective for English Language Learners?”
“Any…All of our teaching has visuals as part of it. It’s a critical part of helping students access another language. It doesn’t matter if it’s like here, Hmong to English, or if I’m learning French, or a French person is learning Japanese—it doesn’t matter. When you’re learning another language, you have to have visuals or it is near impossible.”
With an 87% ELL population and teaching strategies grounded in visual learning, both Erickson and Yang emphasize the necessity for a system that provides for teachers in an efficient way. For them, it’s VariQuest Visual & Kinesthetic Learning Tools. The school has the VariQuest Cutout Maker 1800 and the Poster Maker 3600 which are used virtually every day. Of the tools’ use, Erickson says,“I think the evidence is how often we have to refill the Poster Maker and how often we have to change the blade on the [Cutout Maker]. There are days I can’t get on the [Cutout Maker], because there are three people waiting,” while Yang simply says with a smile, “I wish we could have two sometimes.”
Specific Uses of VariQuest Visual Learning Tools
- General in-classroom use (instructional posters, classroom displays, etc)
- Schoolwide supports
- Individual student use of cutouts are displayed for everyone’s learning, then the student takes the piece home, building a sense of ownership over learning
- Expanding and improving on existing materials such as calendars
While touring the third grade classrooms, we noticed identical main idea and details anchor charts in each classroom. At New Millennium Academy, grade levels teach in teams, so, Erickson explains, “It’s really critical that the Poster Maker makes it easily repeatable. If I’d ask each teacher to make a main idea and details poster they’d all be different. And that’s confusing especially if you’re a language learner. So one of the things [it] allows us to do is be really consistent and to eliminate confusion.”
One third grade teacher showed us a homophone lesson she crafted using pear cutouts created with the Cutout Maker. “It’s just so convenient. Instead of cutting out 100 pears I was able to do it quickly to make planning more effective.”
Closing the Gap
New Millennium Academy is actively closing the achievement gap in Minnesota, and they have the numbers and recognition to prove it. The Minnesota Department of Education has a system of recognition for Title I schools actively closing the gap. In 2013, New Millennium Academy was named a Celebration Eligible School, which are the 25 percent of schools directly below the Reward school cutoff (top 15% of Title I schools). Once named Celebration Eligible, schools must then apply to become a Celebration School, and only a fraction become Celebration Schools, and NMA made the cut! Teachers at NMA work toward a goal of 125% growth each year. By employing a series of very specific teaching strategies for English Language Learners and very clearly outlining schoolwide expectations, New Millennium Academy has made incredible leaps in closing the achievement gap.
Before we left New Millennium Academy, refreshed by the success of the school and welcomed by the happy students and friendly staff, we asked if there was anything else Erickson and Yang wanted to share about their school. Erickson thought for a moment before replying, “I think the one message as I talk to people about this school everywhere is that it’s working. It’s absolutely making a difference. The school is working.” Congratulations to New Millenium Academy on your successes, and we are so proud that VariQuest Visual & Kinesthetic Learning Tools have been able to support your school, staff, and students.
Enlarge rubrics, classroom rules, and graphic organizers to breakdown language barriers
Increase student engagement both during and after class
Integrate effective resources and developmentally appropriate strategies