Friday, May 13, 2011

A primer on SIFE students

Many of you out there may already be confused. Another ESL acronym? However, many of you may have already taught or had some experience with a SIFE student. SIFE stands for Students with Interrupted Formal Education.

How does a student become SIFE?
In most cases, a student is generally considered SIFE when he or she has a gap of 2+ years in their formal education. The reason for the lack or interruption in formal education varies for new students coming to this country. Some students are refugees from countries that are war-torn. They lived in refugee camps or on the run and did not have access to formal education. Other times, students worked in the home or simply did not go to school in their home country. In some countries, students must pay for education, and not everyone can afford it.

What implications does this have for the student in my classroom?
That is a hard question to answer, because as educators we know that every student is different. The age of the student can make a huge impact, as well as the actual amount of lost educational time. Has the student had a gap of only 2 years, or has it been 5? Has the student ever received any formal education? A two year gap for a 3rd grader is much more significant than for a 10th grader. Does the student have any literacy skills in his or her native language? If you know or suspect that a student may have a significant gap of 2+ years in his or her education, it may be necessary to meet with the parents (and an interpreter) to conduct an interview and have some of these pertinent questions answered. 

How can I help a SIFE student?
First and foremost, you can help the student by identifying the student as SIFE, and the learning the reasons for the interruption in education. If the student is a refugee or has suffered some other trauma, it may be necessary to involve a social worker or school psychologist to ensure that the student's emotional and physical needs are met before any academic success can take place. Make sure that the student is enrolled in ESOL services, and if your district has a SIFE department or team, enlist their help and advice. It is important to remember that students who have a significant gap in their formal education may need time to adjust to the routines and environment in the school and classroom. He or she may react strangely in unfamiliar situations. Unfortunately there is not a tried and true method or a magic formula for working with SIFE students. It is important to remember that your SIFE student will likely not come up to grade level within the year. He or she should make progress toward that goal, however.

Continue working hard for your students, and don't be discouraged.

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