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“It’s difficult because I have no one to talk to”—English Learner Students Share their Stories

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Being a student is a very broad concept. Each of us experience school and life differently. As a result, we cannot assume a student’s struggles or successes come from the same place.

 

During my journey from Venezuela to William Penn High School, I got to meet peers from the most diverse backgrounds; some from Turkey, Poland, Congo, Wilmington, Dominican Republic—almost from every continent. Talking to them, I realized that although our journeys were unique—we all had something in common. Compared to our native English-speaking classmates, we English learning students have fewer opportunities available to us, despite the fact that we require additional resources to succeed.

 

I developed more curiosity about the topic. In April, I spoke at the Education Funding Summit hosted by the Education Equity Delaware coalition. During this experience, I learned that Delaware provides no funding for EL students. Even when it is required to ensure students are making progress, there are no requirements for how to support ELs in academic subject areas, and 10 percent of ELs spend more than six years in the EL program, while the average must be three years.

 

Being an intern at Rodel for the summer gave me a great chance to dig deeper. I interviewed seven students to learn more about their experiences in school. I believe strongly that it is important for students to have a voice in this important issue.

 

My first day in school the only thing I remember is that I didn’t know English at all and no one was helping me.Delaware English Learner Student

 

Students were from a variety of schools as well as backgrounds. Some interviews were by phone, Google forms or on paper. However, the actual value was the difference between each response.

 

One of the student’s responses is the perfect summary of an English learner’s first experience in school: ‘‘My first day in school the only thing I remember is that I didn’t know English at all and no one was helping me.’’ The language barrier can have other pitfalls, another student told me: ‘‘When I wake up,” he said, “the only thing I see on my phone notification label is my email. It’s difficult because I don’t have no one to talk to.’’

 

Violence was another factor that minority students described at their school environments. ‘‘The majority of the schools I’ve attended have had major violence issues,” said one student from Wilmington. “It’s hard to flourish and excel in a violent environment that is supposed to be safe and nourishing.”

 

Students expressed how hard success seems to attain as an outsider. But their resolve was stronger. Once student said, “I’ve been showing people that I am able to go higher because most of them stopped me from going to higher classes.”

 

On the other hand, students that attend more affluent schools did not face as many barriers. ‘‘I have not experienced any challenge, and I have seen peers struggle financially which hinders them from having equal opportunity,” one student said.

 

All EL student experiences should be like that: a smooth and fair process, no matter your background, income-level, or native language. What if the educational system provided equal resources to all students? Just imagine the possibilities of having access to great teachers, guidance and school counselors, metal health, rigorous coursework, and more. These resources matter for all students—especially ELs.

Meet Valentina Maza

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Hola! My name is Valentina Maza. I am a native of Venezuela and currently a rising senior at William Penn High School.

 

Two years ago I moved to the United States by myself to pursue my dream of going to a top college in America. Soon after I arrived I realized that achieving my dream would require much more than a great amount of hard work, self-advocacy, and persistence. I learned that there was the so-called “opportunity gap” that set students from immigrant backgrounds and students who are English learners, on a very different academic path. I also learned that without prompt policy changes, especially those that pertain to equitable school funding, opportunities for students like me in this country will continue to be gravely limited and not aligned with our potential.

 

Over the past two years I have been working hard to make sure I can squeeze myself into a very narrow window of opportunity. I have been selected to be a part of such prestigious opportunities like TeenSHARP, a program that guides me along my academic journey toward my goal of entering a top university. At TeenSHARP I also founded a Spanish club called ‘Hola.’ I became the president of the ASPIRA club at my school, a position that allowed me to connect with and advocate for other Spanish-speaking students. I have the honor of being the only student member of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the governor’s Advisory Council on English Learners. I was a semifinalist in the Diamond Challenge where I created my own social venture with my best friend, Tatiana Romero. Our project was called: Education in Times of Immigration.

 

During the last weeks of the summer, I will be working as an intern with the Rodel Foundation. Fortunately, Rodel gave me the opportunity to work on issues that connect with my life experiences and my passions. For instance: postsecondary success exemplifies an ambition of mine, and now as a part of Rodel a purpose of action. Moreover, I will lend my perspectives as a former EL student to the organization’s ongoing advocacy for equitable opportunities for English learners.

 

While I am thrilled to have these experiences, I also know how few students have access to them. That is why I am excited about working with Rodel this summer. Learning more about how to advocate for students so that every single one of us can live up to our potential will be a huge step forward in my life.

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