Stiven’s precious point

art photography by julie nariman

Our school is a school for newcomer immigrant students who are learning English for the first time. Lots of students struggle at the beginning, and passing state exams can be daunting. Despite hard work, many students fail exams the first time.

On top of all of that, they are teenagers, and sometimes they fail because they’re distracted and despite our best efforts, take longer to be fully engaged in school. This was the case for one of our students, Stiven.

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The hunger to serve

Martin Luther King Jr. QuotesKids—and people in general—have a hunger to be of service.  I’m reminded of this hunger on Martin Luther King, Jr Day.

I saw this hunger recently when I peered into a classroom at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon. It was almost an hour after school had ended when I would expect kids to be out eating pizza, or on their way home to play video games, or buried in SnapChat.

And yet, fifteen of our 12th graders were clustered around tables discussing a piece of text. Continue reading

I need this job at McDonald’s

McDonalds photo by skhakirov“Miss, can I leave at 1:30 to go to a job interview at McDonald’s?”

We have 370 students, and while that is small for a school, I normally can’t spend a lot of time with a single student. However, there was something so compelling about Alonso’s deep, resolute desire to go to this job interview that reminded me of what teenagers crave most: independence and responsibility. Continue reading

Can’t you just let him stay?

After school thanksgiving potluckUsman is an adorable 10th grader originally from Pakistan, smaller than the other kids.  He has huge eyes, straight bangs, and a lopsided smile, and whenever he sees me, he waves and says, “Hi Principal!”  He also has an older brother, Saad, in 11th grade who now barely attends school, and is inches away from becoming a Code 39.

A “Code 39” is the code schools use for a dropout.  Back in the first two years of our school’s existence, I remember when Code 39 wasn’t a part of my vocabulary.  Now, we have more Code 39s than we’d like.  We’ve started to watch for early signs of Code 39s, as in the case of Usman at our after-school Thanksgiving Potluck.   Continue reading

If you elect me, you can bring your cell phones to class

immigrant students art photo“If you elect me, you can bring your cell phones to class.”

With that, the crowd erupted and I witnessed the power of political temptation in our student government elections. David, a quiet student from Guinea, was delivering his speech to be an Eleventh Grade Senator.

Why did David’s promise get such a big reaction? Because the administration collects students’ phones to minimize distraction.*

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Bananas are 4011

bananasWhen I was sixteen, I got a job as a cashier at the local IGA supermarket.  Every fruit had a code used for weighing it, and bananas were the first one I memorized: 4011.  I was proud that I knew things like this.  I liked being useful.

A few years ago I read a book called “The Case Against Adolescence” by Robert Epstein, which said until about 100 years ago, adolescence didn’t exist.  People were children, who then became adults.  After you stopped being a child, you were an adult with responsibility, whether that was getting married and having your own child, working, apprenticing, hunting, joining the army, helping your family with a farm or business or household.  You went from being a child who learned how to be a useful older child, who then became a useful young adult.  Which has recently got me thinking about students who have part-time jobs and what they get from it: Continue reading