Amna DaFalla admits that she was uncomfortable the first few weeks she was at the academy. The 18-year-old moved to the United States from Sudan nine months ago. She has attended the academy for four months. Although DaFalla speaks excellent English, she is working on composition and grammar. She will be an 11th grader when she leaves the academy, and she hopes to be able to go to Central High School. DaFalla says at first she was embarrassed to be on the same level as people younger than herself.
“When I first came here, I didn’t like it, but I like school very nice now,” she says. “It fits me better. I want to become a doctor and I think being here helps me.”
Bookstrom, who has worked at the ESL Newcomer Academy for five years, teaches science at a slower pace than he would in a mainstream classroom, but he says the goals are different. “In a regular classroom at Shawnee, the challenge is always to convince the students that what you are teaching has value,” Bookstrom says. “That is not a problem at the ESL Newcomer Academy. In my class, we are using science as a way to get to the English. The students know they need to learn the language. My challenge is assessing how well the students are learning the concepts when they don’t speak English.”
Luckily, some things about education are universal. Nyandebwa, the mother from Congo, has three children at the academy. She smiled knowingly when told that one of her sons picks up concepts well, but is a slacker when it comes to homework. Nyandebwa promised to check the homework every night before he goes to sleep. She also voiced her concern to one of the language arts teachers about her son sitting next to a friend who also speaks Swahili, afraid they are talking among themselves and ignoring the teachers. Nyandebwa laughed aloud when told her son did indeed get in trouble for talking in class. The upside was, he was talking in English.