For months Rainer has been occupying any available laptops at MLOV to write his personal statement for college applications and scholarships. We let him use the laptops on one condition. that we can publish one of his essays on our blog. After months of laboring, here it is!
“Destiny is not a matter of change, it is a matter of choices. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved” -William Jennings Bryan
I will never forget the day my mother left us. It was February 28, 2004 when she migrated to the United States of America to help improve our economic status and lifestyle. Her move gave us the chance to pursue a better education and a comfortable life after she separated from my father. Her migration also brought me closer to my siblings, because I had to take responsibility for my younger brother. In high school I focused on my education to make my mom proud. I wanted her to be proud to have a son with the highest grades. Even though she was far away we continued fighting for the dream to be together as a family again. After a while we lost contact with our father because he started a new family. During these years my grandfather was 83 years old, he took the place of my father and was also my mentor and teacher. I spent
with him nearly my entire life learning about construction, cabinetmaking, and most importantly to love the city where I am living no matter where it is because wherever there are people who care about you is where we should call home. He taught me that everyone has a place in their society and that we have to find our place, and play our role to improve our communities.
In my life I have gone through education in two cultures: Peruvian and American. I was educated in Peru at a public school called Luis Vallejos Santoni, a technical school. My school provided students who attended it the chance to earn a technical career after high school. This is where I took culinary classes for 4 years, learning how to cook traditional foods and prepare certain types of drinks that are popular in Peru. This opened up new opportunities for me to get into the tourist industry. I started to work to earn money for the transportation from my school to my home because my mother could only send us money for groceries and school supplies. I did not want my mother to have to worry about my transportation as well. However, the owner of the restaurant knew that I was a student and could not work without the permission of an adult so he took advantage and paid me less than other workers. I could not work full time because I did not want my job to interfere with my education, so I decided to work every weekend and during school breaks. After 2 years I became a senior and could not continue working for the restaurant because I needed to prepare myself for college. With the support of my teachers and peers I studied hard hoping to get into college to become good individual to support my community.
Before I could finish school in my country my mother suggested I immigrate to the United States with my younger brother and sister. My brother and I arrived in United States on November 26, 2009. My sister could not come and she stayed in Peru. During the time I have been in this country I have worked to learn the English language and adapt to my new environment. Throughout this process I have met different kinds of people and organizations with my same objective: to improve this society. I became part of the Latin America Youth Center where I learned about leadership, the Latino community’s problems and how to use technology to help community member of Washington D.C. I have also been in Many Language One Voice, learning the importance of the rights of English Languages Learners (ELLs), and that people have the power to change their communities. I am currently also a member of a program with the purpose to rebuild Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School to provide a better learning environment for all students.
My mother’s decision to move to United States changed my life. It made me focus on my education and take responsibilities for my decisions to grow as a person. The education I received from different cultures changed my perspective about world. It has taught me that everyone has to work hard to achieve their goal. American culture taught me that we can help each other to succeed. My experience as an immigrant has taught me that I have a choice to work for my success and work to contribute to my society to make a better place. However, I know I cannot accomplish my dream to become a Civil Engineer and help this world alone. Just as an individual should help improve their communities, communities must also support individuals. Communities and individuals have to work together to improve society. This is why I am applying to Esperanza Scholarship. Your scholarship will help me achieve my goal, in turn we can work together to make our society a better place for all of us to live.
Rainer Luza, Roosevelt Senior High School
We're proud to announce that Rainer was accepted into UMASS Boston
this week! UMASS Boston was Rainer's dream school where he will enroll next year to pursue a career in civil engineering. Rainer has also been selected as a semi-finalist for the Esperanza Education Award
, an award funded by the Mayor's Office of Latino Affairs
. Congratulations Rainer, we are so proud of you!Tewodros Kassahun, Cardozo Senior High School
Teddy is going to California this summer! SMART's Lead Student Organizer, Teddy, has been accepted into SOUL Summer School
. "SOUL Summer School provides a structured time to work full-time to develop your grassroots organizing skills and your political analysis." He was selected from a pool of amazing community leaders nationwide.
Congratulations Teddy, we'll miss you, but are excited for the amazing experience you'll be having!
Coolidge Senior High School will be the first high school in DC with an "ELL Support Group", a student envisioned and led initiative meant to enrich the overall experience of the school's ELL families.
Coolidge SMART members spent this past school year researching the best school-based approaches to addressing issues commonly faced by ELL students. After much research, group discussion, and working through proposals, students presented their idea for an intergenerational team dedicated to transforming their school into a multicultural hub. Coolidge's Principal, Thelma Jarrett, was extremely enthusiastic about implementing this student-envisioned project and celebrated the possibility of engaging more immigrant parents in school activities.
Principal Jarrett requested to meet with students again later this month to review SMART's suggestions for the concrete action steps Coolidge needs to take to successfully implement the group next year. The principal also asked students to consider personalizing the name of the group to include Coolidge's overall mission and vision.
Congratulations to all our SMART members who made this happen: Lidya Abune, Rahwa Mebrahtom, Yonatan Abune, Melat Tsehaye, Fasil Tsahaye, Tedla Mekkonen, Basluel Mekkonen, Holy Mbah, Kevine, Ribeka Amanuale, Samuael Seyoum, Nahom Girma, Tensaye Dagnachew
Coolidge SMART has called an emergency meeting today. Students are at this very moment preparing for a greatly anticipated meeting with their Principal, Thelma Jarret. The meeting will take place this Monday, April 30th after school.
SMART organizers will be advocating on behalf of ELL students in their school for the creation an "ELL Support Group", an intergenerational group made up of staff, students, parents and community group representatives that would help support the development of a truly welcoming environment for ELL students at the school.
If the Coolidge agrees to adopt the "ELL Support Group" proposal- an initiative envisioned and driven by students- it would be the first high school in DC to implement a project of this kind.
Wish us luck!
To find out more about what an "ELL Support Group" would actually look like, read our proposal:
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Chairman Kwame Brown's office called last Thursday to postponed his April 25th meeting with SMART's student organizers. His office is yet to confirm the date for another meeting in mid-June.
The meeting, requested by Lead Student Organizer Tewodros Kassahun during a public hearing
in early February, was a youth-led and driven step towards raising awareness among decision makers about the issues English Language Learners face in DC Public High Schools. Part of the organizing work SMART takes on in schools and district-wide is keeping government agencies accountable to abiding by the Language Access Act of 2004, which requires agencies with high public contact to provide interpretation and translation services to limited- and non-English proficient District residents.
D.C. Public Schools is one of the many agencies that needs to be held accountable for providing interpretation and translation services. Despite the passing of the Language Access Act of 2004, the majority of SMART members do not see the act implemented in their schools. Not having interpretation and translation services in schools affects students and their families, especially when entering the school and attempting to communicate with security guards, at the main office trying to communicate with front desk staff, during parent teacher conferences, and during student's one-on-one meetings with their counselors. Parents who do not speak English have been made fun of, insulted, made to wait hours before being asked to return another day, and completely disregarded.
Before the school year ends, SMART members also intend on meeting with Chancellor Kaya Henderson and the Office of Bilingual Education in hopes that DCPS will take into consideration some of the students' simple and low-budget recommendations for making the experience of English Language Learners less alienating. Chancellor Kaya Henderson's office has yet to confirm a date when she would be available to meet with SMART. Despite having to wait a month and half to meet with Chairman Brown, SMART organizers will continue to try and meet with decision makers and help government officials meaningfully engage community members in creating positive change. Photo Credit: Daniel del Pielago, Empower DC's Grassroots Media Project
Interview with Tewodros Kassahun, Lead Education Organizer
Why is SMART successful amongst our members?
The first reason for smart to be successful is because it is a youth led program. The participants in our monthly meetings are our friends. We go throw what they go too. These have created a bond to approaches us and tell us what have happened to them. They are not talking to an adult who don’t feel what they are going throw this have made them engaged to SMART. The second reason is that no one is telling them what they should do; they make decisions about what issues we must work on and how the working process should take place. This has made each SMART member responsible. It’s a popular education, that is going on SMART, not regular classroom teaching and learning process, we can't teach another person, but we facilitate another's learning and help each other as we learn. The third reason is consistency. Our facilitator and we the youth leaders have been working on these issues on consistence basses. These have clarified the problems and have made us engage to what we are doing. This has made us pro and had made our friends trust us on what we are doing, which have made them come to our meeting every month.
What goals does SMART have for 2012-2013?
For this year we have clarified the problems and we have come up with solutions. We have prepared policy to solve these issues. Next year it is there turn to make sure for these solutions to be implemented. They should go around schools and talk to students to make sure DCPS is implementing the policy. If these are not happening they should go to the public hearing and testify in front of the council members.
What could more money help smart do in 2012-2012?
More money could help SMART to buy equipment like interpretation devices, rent bigger rooms for our monthly meetings. To buy more food for our monthly meeting because we sometimes run out of food, and this affect the participation of our members on our meetings. Money for transportation. Since we attend different meetings. To make more flayers, brochures and spread them out.To buy laptops!
Click the picture to check out SMART's summer production "The Worst Day of School", a creative compilation of ELL student's experiences on their first day of high school.
Tewodros Kassahun, our current Lead Education Organizer for Cardozo High School, authored the story. Check out his original version of the fictional main character's journal entry used to create the narrative of the film. Teddy masterfully strung together the actual experiences of SMART members and subliminally made mention of many of SMART's demands for quality education.
Right now I am feeling confused. My day was full of misunderstanding just like the other days. The American dream that I have always dreamed for and came a long way for is vanishing away. School days are getting more and more challenging every day. T Today’s struggle started from the school gate.
When I got to school and went through the metal detector it went off. The securities started saying things that I didn't understand. They stared talking to me like am crazy person, which always happen to you when you don't speak English proficiently. Then one of the security Guard came up to me and touched my belt and showed me to take it off in action. I always feel dumb when they do that and make me mad because you do that for people that lost their hearing aid. After I got through, I prayed for the rest of the day to be better. But my prayers didn't protect me for long, when i got to the cafeteria to eat my breakfast, all they had was dairy products and egg .This was one of the days that I dont eat dairy or meat according to my culture so I had to skip my breakfast and go to class.
My first period class went good because it was a mixture of ELL students and regular students. It was an ESL English period. It went well because there were student like me that were going through what I was going through and this gave me confidence to participate in class and be part of the learning and teaching process. When I finally thought that my day would be better, I got to
my second period class. It was project presentation day. I hate doing anything in front of my second period class, because I am the only one with the accent in class and I was afraid to show it because the students make fun of me. I refused to present the project and my teacher deducted some point off my grade. I lost points for the day and points for the project. This made me mad because I couldn't present it. The bell went off and I ran to the cafeteria to get my lunch. When I got to the lunch area I saw a buch of vegetables on the counter. I was happy to see vegetables finally. I got one of the packs and and went to the benches.When i opened it, their was chicken in it. I got mad and threw it in the trash and went to my counselors to figure out the status of my grades.
I am tired of being a 9th grader. I was in this class before 3 years ago in my country . I was suppose to graduate this year, but since they are not accepting my English credit , and since they made it my fault , I had to take it again.what a crazy thing. What ever I do in my English class, I am not proud of it because I am taking it for a second time. Anyways I went to my counselor to help me graduate on time before the school system kick me out because off my age. I went in to her room and knocked and went in.
Tensaye = Hey there
Counselor =hold on (to the person she was talking on the phone) "come back later I am doing something now and cant you see am on break too".
Tensaye's Thoughts: My god what kind of person is she? Has she forgotten how important her job is? Sometimes I think it is my fault that she avoids me because I don't understand her as fast as the other students do. I don’t know why I even go to her anymore- So I just went to the school’s bilingual counselor even though he is always busy, interpreting for everyone, making important phone calls. I am not one of the students he is supposed to help, but he somehow always finds the time
to help me. I wish we had more bilingual counselors at the school- enough for all ELL students to get the guidance they deserve.
Lunch time ended and I went to my 3rd period. It was u.s history. I hate going to this class because there is too much article reading, which means there is too much vocabulary you don't understand. We don't have dictionary in Amharic, for better understanding of the words.i use the English dictionary, but when I look for the word and find it, the definition has another word that I don't understand. I wish there was a dictionary in my own language, I would have been a lot easier.
The other thing that made the class more challenging for me and that made me different from other students in my class is that they have a cultural background of the subject. They have taken subjects like social studies before in different ways like civics and history. The lack of background information is holding me back from participating in class and getting extra points. Any way
I got done with that class and moved to my 4th period. I like my fourth period teacher, we are from the same country .He understands my English without making me repeat myself again and again like the other teachers. This gives me the confidence to ask him what ever questions I have. This class was the only class that I got an"A" in last semester.
After I got done with my fourth period class and when I was about to go home, I saw my Volleyball team in their uniform. I went to them and asked them what was going on and how come i didn't know about it. They told me that we have a game and it was announced in the morning. Something came up to my mind right away , I remembered I was listening to the announcement but the announcer was talking too fast and I couldn't hear to what he was saying. I blamed myself and my hunger was getting the best of me too, so I decided to go home. On my way out of the school I got my ESL English teacher and he told me that there was a credit recovery class going on. He told me it was announced in the morning news. What a coincidence,
I missed two important information due to the stupid announcement.
When I got home things did not get any better. The only think I wanted to do was eat food but my dad was waiting for me holding a school letter that he was trying to understand and he told me to translate for him but I couldn’t tell him the message fully because I couldn’t understand some of the words. I went to bed feeling lonely and helpless not knowing what I am supposed to do to get the right education I deserve.
Heres a little something something for our fans! Our members have been running around trying to make Education Justice a reality in DC! SMART MembershipSMART members have been preparing for Language Access Month in April by writing and publicly practicing their personal testimonies. Our lead student organizers have been busy planning workshops that will provide our members with concrete tools to boost their public speaking skills. They have also been brushing up on their political education by watching "A CommUnity Concern", a film inspired by education organizers at the annual Communities Public Education Reform conference. Coolidge SMARTOur Coolidge SMART members are getting ready to meet with their principal and propose the establishment of an "ELL Support Group". Once SMART finds a school to pilot the ESG it will propose to Chancellor Kaya Henderson that ESG be established in all high schools with a high percentage of ELL students. What exactly is an ELL Support Group? ELL Support Groups are school-based groups meant to support schools with creating a safe learning environment for ELL families. ELL Support Groups meet once a month and are made up of 2 teachers, 2 ELL students, 2 LEP parents, and 2 community representatives. They are responsible for organizing an annual ELL orientation to the school, mediating and evaluating school-based issues with interpretation and translation services, and organizing festive multicultural events!Roosevelt SMARTOur Roosevelt SMART members have teamed up with Critical Exposure, Rough Riders, and Roosevelt Ambassadors to create the first Youth Caucus at Roosevelt Senior High School. At the Caucus students determined the biggest issues their peers faced at the school. Modernization and school lunches were the biggest issues on students minds. At our next meeting we will be discussing all these issues more in depth and determining one issue students will organize around. Community Media InternsOur community media interns have been taking some HOTT pictures lately (slideshow will be coming soon). Our members have been working with Critical Exposure to learn the art of photography and will soon be applying those skills to SMARTs organizing work. CMIs are already interviewing and photographing community members about their experiences accessing interpretation services at government agencies! This coming month they will be working on taking pictures representative of issues listed in our SMART demands.Upcoming Events and Partnerships
- Stay tuned for the release of our "SMART Education for DCPS's ELL Students", an indepth view at the demands SMART members have been working on and action steps on how to make schools more equitable on both a school and district level.
- SMART/MLOV have been invited to participate in Roosevelt's Adelante! initiative. Adelante! is an ELL advocacy group made up of Roosevelt staff and community representative. It meets weekly to discuss issues faced by students, parents, and staff at Roosevelt and it also helps organize events that make the school a more welcoming environment for ELL students.
- Dont forget to attend MLOV's Many Moves One Movement! All the proceeds will go directly into providing financial support to SMART. Our very own Rahwa Mebrahtom, Melat Tsehaye, and Lidya Abune will be performing an Ethiopian coffee ceremony!
On Saturday March 17th the Office of Asian American and Pacific Islander Affairs hosted its first Youth Town Hall. Students gathered at the Chinese Community Culture Center (CCCC) to speak with Mayor Vincent Gray concerning issues faced by DC's young AAPI community. SMART's very own Lisa Zhao and Shen Qu attended the meeting. Lisa spoke about the barriers ELL students face in accessing AP courses in DCPS. Shen spoke about the importance of having more ELL counselors!
Excerpt from Shen's Testimony:
I am a student from Wilson high school,my name is Shen. Today I went to talk about counselor , and I may have some proposal.We know in high school every student have a counselor, but do we know that a counselor responsible for how many student? In my school , we have more than 200 ELL students,but only 1 counselor .
For each student we need our counselor to help us change class, school timetable, help us to talk with teacher,help us to understand the rules and regulations, And feedback student' performance in school. They have many things to do,but the proportion for student and counselor are 1:200
My name is Lisa Zhao. I go to Wilson High School. I’m in 10th grade now. The issue I’m going to talk today is about college readiness classes for English Language Learning Students. Our school doesn’t really have those classes for ELL students.
First, let me explain why this issue is important for ELL students. As we know, high school is the last step before college. If you get a really good grade, you probably can go to a good college. A good college can give you a good future in generally. For ELL students, their English is not good. So many deans or teachers just say “no” when those students want to take AP classes.
I want to give an example from my own experience. I wanted to take AP chemistry this year. At first, the teacher said “no” because she thought I wouldn’t understand because of my English so I couldn’t do well. She wanted me to switch out of the chemistry. For me, this is a really important class because I want to take SAT subject Chemistry after taking this course. I think you know how important a good SAT grade means to a student. So I talked with my dean and the chemistry teacher again. I told them how important this course is for me and I have the ability to catch up. Finally the teacher said “yes”. I do really well in this class now and I get a really good grade. The teacher and I have a good relationship now.
I’m always thinking how lucky I am because most ELL students don’t have the chance to take AP courses except AP math (because people think Asians are good at math) Actually, I feel sad about it because the key that decides if you can take those classes or not is if they think you’re English is good enough or not. I think it’s unfair because before if you dont try it, who knows the result? If you don’t challenge the students, how do you know how well they can do?
Deans and teachers shouldn't just assume, they should take a closer look! This happens not only because of the deans and teachers. It is also because most ELL students don’t know about it. The American education system is new for them. For example, we don’t have AP courses in China. Those ELL students couldn’t get enough information. Most of the classes that the school gives them are easy classes. If I didn’t talk with a senior last year, I’m would still be in those easy classes right now and result for that would be that I’m would still be behind! I can’t imagine what it is going to be if it really happens to me. If all the ELL students know how important taking AP classes is to getting to college are they going to allow those tragedies happen to them? Of course not! In this case, what I want you help to do is please let schools provide more information for ELL students and at least give them a chance, give them a good future!
Friday, March 9th SMART members packed the house at BloomBars
. Lead Student Organizers facilitated their fourth meeting of the year on building student's confidence while speaking in public.
Our SMART members are getting ready to speak out in honor of Language Access Month in April. Throughout April students will be meeting with principals and decision makers to share with them the most pressing issues faced by ELLs in DCPS.The hottest issues this year are: College Readiness Classes for ELL students, more credit recovery opportunities (such as summer enrichment classes), and assuring all limited-English proficient students and their parents are provided with the interpretation and translation services granted to them in the Language Access Act of 2004.
We wanted to give a special shout out to BloomBars
for donating their beautiful space- Our meeting went amazingly and our members are excited about upcoming events and classes! SMART also wanted to give a shout out to Movement Matters
for bridging us community-based groups together!