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PROGRAM HELPS IMMIGRANT TEENS ADAPT TO U.S.

SHARE PROGRAM HELPS IMMIGRANT TEENS ADAPT TO U.S.

There are 150 students like Lilia Belousov at Highland High School this year - students who have suddenly found themselves in an unfamiliar place called Utah.

These are students who come to high school every day with memories of political repression and refugee camps, of friends they may never see again and of cities left hastily behind.These are the students who are trying to negotiate their way through an American adolescence without understanding the nuances, or even the major nouns, of the English language.

On the average of once a day now, an immigrant or refugee student enrolls at Highland in the ESL (English as a Second Language) program. Some days there have been as many as seven new students, their names - Hautau, Khoshtariya, Huynh, Sharareh, Agnieszka - proof that America is still the great melting pot.

Lilia Belousov, 17, and her brother Rafael, 15, have been in America only three months. They left Estonia, in the Soviet Union, with their siblings, mother, brother and grandmother and relocated in Vienna, where the Tolstoy Foundation suggested they settle in Salt Lake City.

Like the Belousovs, Maria Mosnacek and her family fled from repressive conditions behind the Iron Curtain. Unlike the Belousovs, Maria left her home without much warning - although she had become suspicious that something was afoot when her father suddenly sold their TV and did not buy another one.

That was nearly four years ago, when it was hard to imagine how fluid things would be in the Eastern bloc in 1989. When the Mosnaceks fled Czechoslovakia in 1986 they had to leave behind all their belongings and all their friends. A refugee organization in Austria told them they could emigrate to the U.S. if they would settle in either Idaho or Utah. The Mosnaceks chose Utah, pretty much on a whim.

Eastern Europeans make up a growing segment of the ESL membership at Highland, which, since South High's closure in 1988, is now the port of entry for foreign high school students in Salt Lake City.

In the past 10 years since the high school ESL program began, says program director Lynn Wood, there has been a shift in populations. In the beginning, most of the ESL students were Southeast Asian - not only Vietnamese but Hmong, Laotian and Cambodian.

Today there are more Hispanic students - from Mexico, Central and South America - and, most recently, there has been an influx of Eastern Europeans and Amerasians.

Wood and his secretary, Julia de Los Rios, see a steady stream of students all day long in their tiny office in what used to be a couple of closets next to the auditorium.

"I fully expect our next population will be East German," says Wood.

Earlier this month Highland hired Rimma Baykova, a Russian teacher's assistant who works as a language trouble-shooter for the Russian, Polish and Czechoslovakian students.

If, for example, Lilia and Rafael Belousov need help understanding an art assignment, Baykova will act as translator for them. The brother and sister say that in general the curriculum is less difficult here than in the USSR, but there is still the difficulty of learning it all in a language that is not very familiar yet.

For some students, particularly the Amerasians, there is not only the language barrier and the culture shock but the challenge of learning to read and write at all. Many of the Amerasians, says Asian aide Ahn Le, have had no formal education at all before coming to Salt Lake City.

Linh Tran and Huong Nguyen are Amerasians - the children of Vietnamese mothers and American servicemen fathers - who came to the U.S. from refugee camps in the Philippines. Unlike most of the Amerasian students, Linh and Huong came to the U.S. as orphans.

For those students who have immigrated with parents, there are different problems. "At home everything is topsy-turvy," notes ESL teacher Sandy Horch. Because they often know more English than their parents, the children in a sense become the adults.

The task for ESL teachers is not just to teach the students English and to help with academic subjects, but to provide clues about getting along in a different world. For example, says Horch, there is the matter of when to raise your hand in class, and the matter of American rules. In America, she notes, the rules are often more subtle: teachers may casually sit on their desks and may admit when they don't know the answer to a question, but they still demand respect.

And so do the foreign students, which is one reason why Highland is celebrating Culture Week this week. Students from Poland and Peru, Tonga and Iran and 30 other big and little countries in between have performed during lunch and were interviewed on the school's TV station, and foods from various countries have been featured in the cafeteria all week.

Although American students sometimes just notice the weaknesses of the ESL students, notes Horch, "Culture Week is an attempt to sensitize (the American students) to the richness the ESL students bring."