Rawan Al-Hourani shies from speaking much in English, quiet under her black headscarf. The Palestinian teen has spent just eight months in the United States, trying to pick up English at Mira Mesa High School. But a poem she wrote in summer school reveals things she sometimes struggles to say out loud.
“I am speechless and hopeful,” it reads. “I wonder how the terrorists intimidate the people.”
Some of her classmates are even newer, straight from Vietnam or Guatemala. Others have spent years here and gab readily in English. They trade jokes and American slang, but struggle with academic vocabulary on tests and in textbooks. Some are confident enough to flirt in English or rattle off pop lyrics, but still risk failing the high school exit exam, which can decide whether they graduate.
These teens don’t have to be here at Mira Mesa High, but they’re here. They’re trying to catch up in English — or at least avoid losing ground. Educators fear that summer can be a setback for English learners who stop using English at home when school lets out. So San Diego Unified keeps summer school open to all high school English learners who want it, even if they ace their classes.
The class lasts four hours a day for six weeks, one of nearly a dozen summer classes in San Diego Unified designed specifically for high school English learners. Instead of sitting idle, these teens have sat side by side, learning about Sudanese refugees, how “assimilation” is different than “acculturation,” analyzing and finally writing poems of their own about immigration and identity.
“You feel something and you just say it,” said Gladys Lapada, a bubbly teenager who moved here from the Philippines three years ago, and hopes to someday go back there as a nurse, helping the poor. She claims — somewhat unconvincingly — that she used to be shy. “It’s emotional.”