Dearborn is the greatest city in the world
I think that Dearborn is special, because we take every kid, we look at the different dynamics and the different layers of what an EL is and we look at what the different layers of at-risk students and we try to meet the needs. And it goes beyond the classroom. It’s a community effort.
I would say that it’s one of the few communities that allows a buffer for our immigrant families where the transition and the adjustment to a new world is a comfortable adjustment. And it’s not as frightening as going into a town where there isn’t some commonality, some understanding and some kinship of some sort and not necessarily from a people from the same country but people who are coming from different lands.
So that struggle is a community struggle sometimes. So it might be that I'm a first generation Arab American. So I've never been to the Middle East. But having worked with immigrant students from all over the world I understand what that feels like. Having lived with brothers-in-laws and sisters-in-laws who have come in from a new country, from a different country I know what that transition feels like and what that struggle feels like. And so I feel like there’s a sense community even when there is that that sense of discomfort and fear for our new families. So we face those challenges, but we make it happen.
How do we make this even better for our kids?
When we think of the city helping, working together as a community and helping one another, I'm really kind of a result of that. I wasn’t here when it started. We have seen little snippets and videos of the first group of first-generation Arab Americans who laid the foundation, the start of access. The pride of the Salina graduates.
So this is a largely Yemeni community now. It used to be Lebanese American. And so this is where every first generation starts, because before it was Lebanese American, it was Polish American. And before it was Polish American, it was Italian American. And so the south end is iconic in the sense that it’s where every family started. So those community supports I would say started with every generation that lived a life before my group did. I came in and really got to reap the rewards of the bricks that were laid of the generations prior to. Now were they still working on it? Sure. I ended up in bilingual classes and I didn’t speak Arabic. But I walked out speaking Arabic, which was phenomenal. My parents were excited.
But it happened because I happen to have a last name that was Middle Eastern. So my first name wasn’t, and I used to get questioned for that too. I really didn’t fit. So I wasn’t of the group that created the community supports but I was of the group that was kind of where the supports were tested on and then we became that generation of, “How do we make this even better for our kids?” And so we’ve seen the evolution of it and we’ve been a part of it, but I wouldn’t say that we were part of the foundation that was built. But we can say that we appreciated it, because what they did has benefited who we are today.
Building background knowledge
I graduated a certified teacher. I did not graduate an EL teacher. So I came in thinking I’d teach a fourth grade classroom, a fifth grade classroom so when they asked me to work with immigrant students I wasn’t sure what to do with that. And then I realized that a lot of it was helping, finding out where our kids are and making sure that we build that background for our students and make those connections for them. And that would take us a long way.
And I remember that I wasn’t much different. I may have been born and raised here, but my experiences are vastly different than someone who may come from a background that doesn’t have that cultural presence that a first-generation child would have. I had never been to a beach. It wasn’t a cultural, it just wasn’t something we did. I never felt like I missed it, but it was because I always knew what it felt like, because it had always been introduced through stories. I want to say I was maybe ten before I went to a beach, But because the experiences were formed through story and through life experiences of the adults it really was never a gap.
Seeing how far my students have come
Now when I got out to a pharmacist or to a doctor’s office I notice the PA might recognize me because they were one of my newcomers now and they’re in medical school or they’re a certified nurses which to me is the payoff. Living in a community where a child came in not speaking the language, they didn’t fit in with their peers and now is providing a service to me and I'm turning to them for their support, I don’t really know that anything could replace that.
Understanding our students’ cultures
We expect as teachers a certain behavior from our students. I think if we took the time to understand what cultures they’re bringing into the classroom, because they’re very different based on their experiences, we within our own right would be developing our own healthy cultures within our rooms. And so in order to develop that, in order to maximize the opportunities for academic achievement to be able to meet the social-emotional of our kids, we have to know what they’re coming in with.
So understanding where they are culturally gives you that baseline. But then there’s also a home culture that comes with and there’s a school culture that they’re also bringing with them and from previous experiences. So I don't know how you can really start academic achievement without really knowing where they are culturally.
Using language as a resource
We’ve tried several different avenues to reaching our newcomers. And we know that research says native language is the best way to reach newcomer students. We don’t have teachers who have formal Arabic, we have teachers who have conversational Arabic. A lot of the teachers in the district who do have the language are first generation. So they are not bilingual endorsed, they’re ESL endorsed. They use standard, modern standard Arabic for clarification purposes. And it’s a recognized best practice.
You don’t fight the research. You use whatever works for students, whether it’s visual aids, oral language, native language, building background, making those text-to-life connections. Those are all resources that we would hope to build in every teacher’s toolbox. And so whatever we have, we put to use.
My education in Dearborn
So I attended Salina School. We moved from Detroit, southwest Detroit to Dearborn, Michigan, actually a few blocks away from here. And so my first experience in school was in a kindergarten class from next door at the old building. And I would say really they shaped my future. The reason that I went into education was because of my kindergarten teacher and because of my first grade teacher and because of my fifth grade teacher.
They had left such a strong impression on me that I knew at five I wanted to be a teacher. I knew that I wanted to touch the life of kids and have some impact, whether it was teaching them now to read, having conversations, teaching them math. I knew that every day that I walked into a room they were bringing up a whole new world to me.
Making tomorrow better than it was today
I know that that’s the intent of teachers when we start, when we begin our careers that we want to change the world and we want to give our students every opportunity. Can we do it every single day? Not necessarily. But can we walk away knowing that tomorrow we’re going to try to make it better if the lesson didn’t work today or if the child had a hard day? Maybe we can then start off with a great day tomorrow. So it’s really the opportunities to make tomorrow better than it was today.