In elementary school, I still remember the moment our school counselor came into our class with an unknown kid beside her. His name was Sabo, and he couldn’t speak a lick of English. His parents recently had immigrated from Georgia (the country) and had settled at an apartment near our school’s zone. Even the basic greetings of “hello” and “good morning” were unknown to him. Looking back, it would be terrifying for a six-to-seven-year-old to come to a new country with a class full of faces foreign to him as much as the language. He was enrolled in our school ESL program but was said to start attending class with us regularly. A couple of weeks would go by, and the same scene plays out from earlier. However, this time, we see Sabo come in with a smile and say “good morning” to the whole class. We all started clapping and welcomed him with open arms, which I later learned would ease his nerves and make him excited about attending school. For the next four years, Sabo and I would develop a friendship, and by that time he has fully assimilated into life in America. Looking back, our school’s ESL program was exceptionally good, and the environment of our classes was unnaturally welcoming. Your starting support systems and tools, especially as someone new coming into a new educational system, is probably the most important part of your learning and assimilation. Sabo’s story is one of success and how important that factor is. However, Alam a middle school classmate of mine, wouldn’t quite get the same benefits.
Alam was from Bangladesh, and he had recently moved with his family to the states. He could speak some English, but it wasn’t enough to hold any conversations. He had a funny accent, and most of the kids especially from higher grades would bully him for it. Our class wasn’t nice to him at all, and they would make fun of him whenever they saw an opportunity to make their friends laugh. Alam didn’t make many friends, and when he did, they would just use him as their little punching bag. He would start not coming to school and would often get into fights with kids in the lunchroom. Two years later, in eighth grade, I would talk to Alam more and get more informed on what was happening to him during that first year. He told me that the ESL curriculum he went through was awful, he would barely get any attention from his teachers, and oftentimes because of his reputation after the fights he would get into, they would always treat him without respect. He would have to take the ESL course again in seventh grade and told me about how he didn’t make many friends in school so he would skip to hang out with his cousins. In my opinion, in contrast with what happened with my friend Sabo if he was started with a better environment that would encourage and accept him, as well as having gone under a good ESL program that didn’t discriminate against him, he would’ve gone down a much better learning experience where he would be able to advance to our level much earlier and have a better time.