- Sponsorship -

Students New to U.S. Struggle to Succeed, Overcome Stereotypes

For Union High seniors Sergio Diaz, Elida Deleon and Keyli Ventura-Valasquez, learning English was the key to everything else when it came to school. All came from non-English-speaking homes, and all are on track to graduate this spring.

Sergio came to the U.S. in 2009 from the Dominican Republic, with his father and sister. He started school in Grand Rapids, but the family bounced around to Boston and the Detroit area before returning here. Sergio came as a freshman to Union, where his limited English skills made him a very quiet student.

“People think it’s easy to learn English, but it’s not,” Sergio said. “They don’t know the struggle you’ve got to go through to get where you are right now.”

But Sergio had a huge asset in his athletic abilities, becoming a standout on Union’s basketball and baseball teams. That helped him gain a foothold in school and a pathway to college while maintaining good grades.

“The only way I connected to people was through sports,” said Sergio. “That’s how I made new friends. That kept me motivated.”

See Related Story: Graduation Rates Up for GRPS But Challenges Remain There & Other Districts

He is also motivated by his brothers and sisters still in the Dominican Republic, who he would like to eventually join him in the U.S. He notes he would be the first of his brothers to finish college.

“I’m the only person that can make it different,” Sergio said. “It motivates me to keep doing good, to try to help my family out of the struggle they’re going through right now.”

Fighting Immigrant Stereotypes

Elida and Keyli both grew up in Grand Rapids as children of parents from Guatemala. They heard only Spanish at home and didn’t start speaking English until they entered school. The transition was difficult.

“I would see all the kids playing. I’d be trying to communicate and interact with them,” recalled Elida. “It was kind of hard, because you couldn’t talk. You wanted to, but you couldn’t.”

The struggle made her push herself, keep a notebook of new words and take pride in getting top grades (her GPA was 4.2 fall semester). She says she excelled not just for herself but for her parents, neither of whom finished elementary school.

“I wanted to make them proud, and I wanted them to see this country does bring opportunities to us,” said Elida, who is interested in becoming a teacher. “I wanted to be that kind of proof for them.”

She is grateful for her experience in America — even amid the negative images of Latino immigrants in the prevailing political moment.

“I want to prove you don’t have to be that stereotype, that you come from a different country to the United States just to work,” she said. “You can get a career. You can get a life.”

Keyli was fired by a similar desire to make her family proud, and to exemplify success for Hispanic students. She was brought by her father to the U.S. when she was 2, along with her mother and brother, for a better life.

She too found learning English to be hard, but said, “If you determine yourself to doing what you know you can do, you can accomplish it.”

Reflecting on her school career, she sees great improvements in herself — and great promise for all students like herself and Elida.

“Just because we’re Hispanic students doesn’t mean we’re not capable of doing what a true American can do,” said Keyli, who aspires to enter the medical field. “Yes, we have dreams. Yes, we want to accomplish those. We know we can.”

- Sponsorship -
Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

LATEST ARTICLES

Looking for classroom lessons in the great outdoors

Sally Triant is exploring every GRPS campus in the city, looking for places to turn the outdoors into an educational opportunity...

Fourth-grader’s pickle stand inspired by school marketplace

‘With my tiny fingers, I am good at stuffing them,’ said the young pickle peddler. ‘You can see how they are packed in, so you get more for the money’...

Home schooling inquiries grow as parents ponder how to meet children’s needs

The pandemic has caused parents to seek options for schooling and socialization. For some, home schooling becomes an option, while others create new ways to help their children...

GRPS to continue virtual-only instruction for rest of semester

GRPS leaders decided to extend the district's 100 percent virtual learning model for the rest of the first semester after the Kent County Health Department announced rapidly rising COVID-19 positivity rates...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Looking for classroom lessons in the great outdoors

Sally Triant is exploring every GRPS campus in the city, looking for places to turn the outdoors into an educational opportunity...

GRPS to continue virtual-only instruction for rest of semester

GRPS leaders decided to extend the district's 100 percent virtual learning model for the rest of the first semester after the Kent County Health Department announced rapidly rising COVID-19 positivity rates...

New interim director heads foundation support of K-8 student sports

An attorney with both sports and fundraising experience is the new interim director of a program that gives GRPS K-8 students a chance to play sports, regardless of ability to pay...
- Sponsorship -

HOW'S SCHOOL TODAY?

Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...

RADEMACHER & FRIENDS

Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -

MEDIA PARTNERS

Maranda Where You LiveWGVU

SUSTAINING SPONSORS