Sherry Xu immigrated to the United States from Shanghai, China, with the hope of becoming an average American. After years of studying English, becoming involved in extracurricular activities at Boston Latin School, and socializing around Boston, she achieved her goal of integrating into American culture.
There are thousands of high school students all across Boston, and the United States, with similar stories.
For Xu, teachers and faculty took a special interest in her, connecting her with the school’s orchestra and volunteer opportunities in the community. They also helped Xu obtain her lifeguard license so she could obtain a summer job.
“The first three months are the hardest for an immigrant,” Xu said about her introduction to the United States. “The biggest problem is getting over the language barrier.”
Members of the Boston Public School (BPS) system make it a priority to help these student immigrants.
Yorsalem Brhane, 17, an immigrant from Sudan has been in the United States for the past five years. She was 12 years old when she immigrated, but had only completed the third grade.
Brhane talked about the school system in Sudan and the lack of interest in the students. Her school did little to help her progress and expand her knowledge. Coming to the United States had one of the biggest impacts on her life, she said.
“The first three months are the hardest for an immigrant.”
— Sherry Xu
Brhane attends Boston International High, a BPS school. It provides several options for student immigrants, including the The Newcomers Academy for immigrants. At school, Brhane was encouraged by her English teacher to join the debate team and is in student government. She is also in a AP college prep program called Let’s Get Ready.
“For once, a school gave me a chance to be truly educated,” said Brhane.
Toni Jackson, coordinator of extended learning for BPS, described the Newcomers Academy as helping students who have minimal education or had their schooling interrupted. The program focuses on teaching English while students attend regular classes.
Jackson said, in an email, there are a number of programs, such as Sociedad Latina, which supports schools that work with Latin youth. In terms of Boston Public Schools, there is the Office of English Language Learners (OELL), which supports teachers and families.
Sociedad Latina’s website said its mission is to nourish immigrants to become self-sustaining and proud of their cultural heritage. The OELL focuses on education and provides support needed to ensure access to opportunities, according to its website.
Both Xu and Brhane immigrated to the United States for a better life. The schools they attend are helping them with these challenges.
“I feel like up until coming to this school I’ve been blind,” said Brhane. “Now I feel like my eyes are finally beginning to open.”