ESL students conquer language bariers, set to graduate

ESL students conquer language bariers, set to graduate
After coming to America not knowing English and ending high school knowing enough to graduate and pass all of his TAKKS test, David Moreno worked as a helper for other students in the ESL classes who are struggling to learn English. (Romeeka Siddiqui photo)

Senior David Moreno started high school in a country he never even visited before. He didn’t know the language or the culture of the people at his new school. He left all his friends in El Salvador when his family came to America his freshman year. He knew very little English, but with the help of the ESL teachers, he is now graduating High School and moving on to college. He still remembers his first day at Ducanville High School.

“I tried to get use to the environment and just try my best in school and work hard,” Moreno said.

His hard work shows through his TAKS scores, which he passed the first time through. Passing TAKS gave him, as well as many of the other seniors, hope and motivation to continue with their American studies. Now that Moreno helps other kids that are in the position he was in a few years ago.

“Well I just try to, like, give them the motivation to overcome it. They are kind of scared so I just try to tell them that not everything is easy and they have to work at it,” Moreno said. “I tell them all they have to do is believe in themselves and if they want to learn the language they need to keep that in mind and work on it and at the end they will be able to speak English.”

Senior Haddy Manneh from Gambia said the biggest obstacles of coming to America besides the language was making friends and feeling nervous in class. Because of her personal experiences, she plans on helping others in similar situations.

“I will help them first by making them comfortable and if they need a friend I’ll always be here because I know how it feels to come to a different country without knowing English.” Manneh said.

Zoranlly Benoit from the Domincan Republic knew only the basics of English when she came to America. She could say her name as well as greet someone, but that was about it. She said English was the hardest class to pass.

“It was frustrating because I had to use the translator and every second I wanted to talk I couldn’t and it was hard,” Benoit said.

Benoit says she feels good when there are other races around her because she can express myself more. She wants to do tourism and travel management because she likes traveling and seeing amazing parts of different countries. She also says that watching movies without the subtitles and listening rap music helped her learn English.

“It’s fast and you need to translate it in your mind. Sometimes I need to look up lyrics,” Benoit said.

Mrs. White, one of the ESL teachers, said that when the students first start out in America, they’re scared. But once they overcome the size of the school and realize they’ve got to learn some survival English then they become really eager to learn.

“They need the same things other students need. They need motivation, they need encouragement, and they need to see some success,” White said. “In just in general, look forward to this class because they’re hard workers. Most of them like to learn and appreciate what you have to teach them. We have a good time. We’re like a little family.”

Mrs. White said the seniors this year can be inspirations to the new students coming to America. She says that the new students will have tangible examples of how it can be done with hard work and lots of studying, lots of reading, and lots of speaking English when they don’t want to. It can be done and they can do it.

“When they realize how far they’ve come after being here for a few months or a year or two years and look back they can help the students that are just getting here and say ‘Look, I’ve been where you are and I know how scary it is and they just swarm that student,” White said. “They show them to their classes and they help them translate their schedules, whatever they need they are there to help them.”

This year was the first time these students went to the homecoming game and Prom. Mrs. Bonner, the lead ESL teacher, said she felt very motherly toward the kids who went to Prom because she helped them get their corsages and other preparations together. She also says that these students have to try twice as hard when it comes to academics.

“A lot of times some of our students aren’t really nice to them so they make their own group. These kids are like sponges they just want to soak everything up because they have to,” Bonner said. “Last year we only had two students that graduated but this year I know that we’re going to graduate at least ten. They are very excited about graduation.”