As the school year comes to an end and we are all struggling with this new normal created by the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when our values and humanity are tested and some of us have more questions than answers, we are bringing you stories of resilience, success and hope from the most unexpected place. These stories are coming from our students, all English Language Learners (ELLs) in the NYC public schools, one of the groups the most impacted by the pandemic because of an unequal access to resources and language barriers among other things.
They’ve not only disproportionately struggled with the disease in their families and communities but they also found themselves suddenly stuck at home with their parents and had to mourn the loss of the sense of community that comes with being in a school building. They had to figure out distance learning, they had to find quiet spaces to study and adjust to distance learning while sometimes working; some of them having to take care of their younger siblings or helping their parents. Many of them had to wait weeks to receive a computer or an Ipad borrowed from the DOE to then try and find a reliable internet connection.
Despite all of that, many of them are graduating this week from high school. Arrived in this country 4 years ago and less, they grappled with the reality of being in a new country with a culture at the antipodes of what they’ve always known; they had to learn a new language at the speed of light and navigate the complex American college admissions system.
They are going to community colleges, CUNY schools but also private institutions like Purchase College, Francis College, Skidmore College and NYU.
We want to put a bright light on them and their stories because they are truly inspiring. We saw them once or twice a week in their schools and in their own words, “made them feel at home”, giving them a space to be themselves, speak their languages and see the beauty and the power of their multilingualism.We cannot wait to see what they are going to do next.
Agnès Ndiaye Tounkara