Refugee Students Adjust To New Life And Language

Anna Gurskaia, Editor in Chief

Throughout the entire school district, there are currently 215 refugee students, and that is an understatement since there are no records of the students who joined the schools before 2017. The district only began adding the refugee data formally in the 2017-18 school year. It was optional for the families to share if they were refugees. The number also continues to change throughout the year as students move in and out of the district, but about 50 of these students are at the High School this year. The languages are not exclusive to, but primarily: Arabic, Nepali, Pashto, Ukrainian, Russian, Urdu, Swahili, Burmese, and French.   

Every student is welcomed by our inviting and skilled ELL staff here at the High School, including Mrs.Belaya, and Mr.Mohamed (who translates for the students) where they learn together using many different and helpful skills. This past year, the school has gained three siblings from Afghanistan; Mohammed Yousef, Neyazi Faiwho are adapting to the language and both the environment of the school and country. They are adjusting to the school very well. 

 “They are very happy. I taught them how to say ‘hi’, ‘how are you?’ and they have been talking to everyone,” said Mrs. Belaya.  Although the students are quickly progressing, there are definitely many challenges that they face, as they adjust to a new environment. The most challenging aspect is the level that the students are coming into the program with. “They’ve never ever been in school. They don’t have any formal schooling. Can you imagine? Never even holding a pencil? They don’t have any native written language, they only have oral. They don’t know the connection between letters and sounds. Being 15, 16, 17 years old, never having a school experience. That’s the most challenging part,” said Mrs.Belaya. However, she is impressed by the enthusiasm of the students, despite all the obstacles of learning. “They have the most wonderful hearts, wonderful kids, very happy. The most rewarding part about teaching them has been to see sparkles in their eyes. To see them be so happy to realize things like, ‘Really? I can do this now?'” Belaya continued.  

Another hardship that the students face are matching letters with sound. The most difficult challenge was, and still is, the letter C. “They look at me like ‘are you from a different planet? How is that a C and you’re like cat, a second ago you told me it’s s-e-e and now it’s  ‘k-a-y.’ ” Even with this obstacle of confusion, the students continue to push through with much perseverance. Memorization is a big part and great skill that Mrs.Belaya and the students use. “It’s very helpful, that’s how we learn. Fatimah has memorized everything, she’s like a copy machine. Even when I tell her, ‘okay, read’ she will say, ‘okay, read’ and then continue to read. She repeats everything, and that’s what helps her learn.” 

Every student has their own experience and while for some it may be too sensitive of a topic or traumatic of an experience to share, others have opened up and shared their stories. The students have encountered many new activities and sports, and have each found one they love the most. Their favorite part about school is gym class. “They’re not used to all the activities in the gym, but they have a lot of fun learning.”  “Fatimah likes running, naFisa enjoys tennis and Yousef likes basketball.”  As the school year comes to an end, both the students and the staff are excited about the progress they’ve all made. The students get to enjoy the summer, with newfound skills and all the lessons they’ve learned. The teachers look forward to a new year next year, full of even more things to learn, and maybe even more refugee students to introduce to the English language and the school environment.